Here’s how long it took 34 of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs to get rich

Featuring Levi Roots, Richard Branson, and Sarah Willingham, find out how old entrepreneurs were when they made their first million and why it’s never too early - or too late - to realise your business dreams

Though many entrepreneurs would say it’s just a number – and certainly no excuse to rest on your laurels – breaking the £1m mark has proved an enduring symbol of success in business.

At once sky-high and yet tantalisingly achievable, passing that first million in turnover is as good a benchmark as any that your business is on the right path.

But how long does it take the average entrepreneur to reach that figure?

We’ve analysed data from a number of publicly available sources including Companies House, The Sunday Times Rich List, the FT, How They Started, and many interviews shared on Startups.co.uk, to find out how old the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs were when their businesses first made £1m turnover.

The average age? 31

However, with ages ranging from just 17 up to 50, our findings show that there really is no upper or lower age limit to finding business success.

Whether you’re still in school, or you’ve been sitting on an idea for 20 years, there’s no perfect time to get started in business, so why not get going?

There’s no guarantee it’ll happen overnight either: whilst some of the entrepreneurs in this list made their first million within a year, for others it took decades and multiple failures; some even found overnight success only to lose it all.

If there’s one thing this list proves, it’s the value of perseverance and optimism when starting and growing a business. You may have to overcome obstacles and face disappointments along the way, but stick with it and the juice could be worth the squeeze.

You’ll also notice a diverse range of businesses in this list; proving that it doesn’t matter if your business is in vacuum cleaners, computers, baby food or plumbing, with the right attitude and passion you can build a million-pound business…

1. Levi Roots

Age at first million turnover: 50

Levi-Roots-Reggae-Reggae-Sauce

Amongst the latest starters of our millionaires, the Jamaican-British Levi Roots (real name: Keith Valentine Graham) ran a jerk chicken store at Notting Hill carnival for 15 years. It wasn’t until 2006, when he was spotted at the World Food Market by a BBC researcher, that he got his big break. Roots pitched on Dragons’ Den and scooped £50,000 from Peter Jones and Richard Farleigh and even got the sauce listed in Sainsbury’s as a result of the exposure. Sales reached £1m within the first year when he was 50 years-old and Levi Roots Reggae Reggae Foods became one of the Den’s most successful businesses ever.

2. Richard Reed CBE

Age at first million turnover: 27

Cambridge University graduate Richard Reed set up smoothie business innocent drinks with Adam Balon and Jon Wright in 1999 when they were all aged 26, giving up careers at blue chip firms to follow their dream. The trio had noticed the growing trend for juice bars around London but wanted a more convenient way to get their fresh fruit fix. And it seemed consumers did too: innocent drinks hit £1m turnover in its second year when 2003 Young Gun Reed was 27.

3. Lord Sugar

Age at first million turnover: 33

The man now most famous for uttering “You’re fired”” on The BBC’s The Apprentice rose from humble origins to get to where he is today. After honing his sales chops as a market trader, Lord Sugar set up Amstrad in 1968 at the age of just 21 as an export and imports trading business for consumer electronics. The burgeoning demand for personal computers helped the business enjoy rapid growth throughout the 1970s. By the age of 33 he was a millionaire.

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4. Steven Bartlett

Age at first million turnover: 23

Steve-Bartlett

Steven Bartlett showed an entrepreneurial zeal early in life, convincing coffee machine manufacturers to pay to have their machines in local schools. He dropped out of a business management course at Manchester Metropolitan University to focus on building a social media platform. Not long after, he met Dominic McGregor, who would become co-founder of Startups 100-featured global social media marketing agency Social Chain with him. Within a year of trading, the business reached sales of £1.4m – Bartlett was just 23 years-old.

5 & 6. Tom and James Exton

Age at first million turnover: 29

Twins Tom and James Exton already had careers in finance and law before the blog they set up with brothers Max and Lloyd Bridger to offer fitness advice spiralled into a money-making enterprise. Promoting an all-natural approach to fitness, Startups 100-featured LDN Muscle started to sell training and nutrition plans, as well as branded clothing and accessories. The brand quickly found a legion of fans around the world and hit turnover of £1m in 2016, with the duo aged just 29.

7. Nick Jenkins

Age at first million turnover: 31

Nick-Jenkins-Moonpig

In the late 1990s, with a decent amount of cash in the bank from his time as a commodities trader, Nick Jenkins decided to try his luck in the burgeoning e-commerce market with Moonpig. While the company’s first year revenues topped £90,000, his customisable greeting card concept soon found traction and hit £1m turnover three years late in 2004 when Jenkins was 31. Just over a decade after it launched, in 2011, Moonpig was acquired by digital photo service PhotoBox for £120m. Jenkins has gone on to become a Dragons’ Den investor and a Startups Awards judge.

8. James Caan

Age at first million turnover: 27

Born in Pakistan, James Caan moved to the UK when he was two years-old. His father founded a successful clothing company in Brick Lane, which he expected his son to join. However, Caan had ambitions to make his own way in the world. The Dragons’ Den investor was just three years into his first business – recruitment company Alexander Mann – when he turned over £1m in 1988. He went on to sell a minority stake in the company in 1999 for an estimated £25m, and  launched a second recruitment company, Humana International in 1993.

9. Sir Richard Branson

Age at first million turnover: 23

Sir-Richard-Branson

Richard Branson showed entrepreneurial spark from a young age, starting a student magazine at the age of 16 in 1966. Founded in 1972 as a mail order business for records and then a single record shop, It was just one year later in 1973 that Branson first made a million turnover. He was just 23 years-old. Today, Branson’s Virgin empire encompasses more than 400 companies in industries as varied as locomotion, aviation and even space travel.

10. Sarah Willingham MBE

Age at first million turnover: 31

Born in Stoke on Trent, Sarah Willingham lived and breathed restaurants from the age of 13 after getting her first job in the sector. She worked for major high street chains including Planet Hollywood and Pizza Express before spotting an opportunity to create a chain of Indian restaurants. She bought Bombay Bicycle Club in 2004, the same year she co-founded and publicly listed ‘neutraceutical’ business Neutrahealth on the London Stock Exchange. In 2007, at the age of 31, she had sold Bombay Bicycle Club and has since gone on to become a Dragons’ Den investor and ambassador for a number of business initiatives.

11. Michelle Mone OBE

Age at first million turnover: 30

Michelle-Mone

Glasgow entrepreneur Michelle Mone left school at 15 with no qualifications but, by the age of 23, had progressed to head of sales and marketing for brewer Labatt’s. Just a year later she was made redundant when the company sold to Whitbread. However, an uncomfortable brassiere at a dinner dance would set her on the path to business success. After three years of research, Mone launched lingerie brand Ultimo in 1996. By 2001, when she was 30 years-old, Ultimo reached annual turnover of £1m. Mone exited Ultimo in 2015 and now sits on the board of Ve Global, and recently co-founded VC fund Equi.

12. Peter Jones CBE

Age at first million turnover: 33

Peter Jones, the longest running investor on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den had a rocky start in the business world. He founded his first computer company at the age of 19 but was forced to move back in with his parents and give up his three-bedroom home and cars in his late 20s after it failed. But that wasn’t the end for Jones. In 1998, he set up Phones International Group, turning over £13.9m within the first year of trading when he was 33.

13. Paul Lindley

Age at first million turnover: 40

Though already hugely successful as deputy managing director of Nickelodeon’s UK business, it took fatherhood to set Paul Lindley on the path to entrepreneurial success. He wanted better food options for his baby daughter Ella. In 2006 he set up Ella’s Kitchen and within just one year of trading, when he was 40 years-old, the business had generated revenues of over £1m and had listings in major supermarket chains. Lindley went on to set up a toiletries brand Paddy’s Bathroom – which has since shut down – and the Key is E, a social enterprise. He is also the author of a best-selling business book.

14. Archie Hewlett

Age at first million turnover: 21

Hewlett gave up his chance to study at Durham University to take a punt on his shoe business idea with a £9,000 loan. The plan: to sell quality slip-on loafers for an affordable price. Ranging in price from £150 to £750, Startups 100-featured Duke & Dexter’s shoes are handmade in Sheffield using materials from more than 25 countries around the world. In just over a year, when he was just 21 years-old, the business had reached £1m in sales and Duke & Dexter’s slip-ons had been worn by the likes of Justin Timberlake, Tinie Tempah and Poppy Delevingne.

15 & 16. Baroness Martha Lane Fox and Brent Hoberman CBE

Age at first million turnover: 27 and 31

Martha-Lane-Fox

Lastminute.com founders Martha Lane Fox and Brent Hoberman were beneficiaries of the late 1990’s internet boom. The online travel and leisure retailer saw exceptional growth and weathered the dot com bubble to become paper millionaires by March 2000 (less than two years after launch) after floating on the London Stock Exchange. Lane Fox was 27 the time. If it wasn’t for being fired from his first job as an investment banker for being “a prima donna”, Hoberman may never have followed his entrepreneurial pursuits. As CEO, he oversaw Lastminute’s rapid growth and was 31 years old when the company went public in 2000.

17. Ben Francis

Age at first million turnover: 22

Founded whilst he was still at university in 2012, Young Gun Ben Francis is the creator of fitness brand Gymshark which sells stylish and functional gym-wear to fashion-conscious gym-goers. Initially started just selling a few t-shirts to friends, the business has grown at an astonishing rate, and now sells its wares – including water and shaker bottles and bags – in over 131 countries around the world. Within its first year of trading, Gymshark had hit more than £350,000 in turnover. Just one year later, it was seeing revenues of more than £4m, with Francis aged 22 at the time.

18. Charlie Mullins

Age at first million turnover: 34

Hardly an auspicious start for a now hugely successful plumbing business, Charlie Mullins – the son of a factory worker and a cleaner – started Pimlico Plumbers in 1979 in the basement of an estate agents. Just seven years later, the company would hit £1m revenue, when Mullins was aged 34. Today, the entrepreneur is worth an estimated £70m and Pimlico Plumbers is one of the largest plumbing operations in the capital, carrying out 80,000 jobs per year.

19. Matthew Riley

Age at first million turnover: 29

Lancashire-based Young Gun Matthew Riley – who left school at 16 – founded telecommunications reseller Daisy Communications in 2001 with a £300,000 loan secured against his home and saw exceptional growth from the off. A strategy of intense acquisition and profit reinvestment saw the company go from turnover of £290,000 in 2002 to a staggering £9m in 2004. Riley went on to float the company on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) in 2009 and grew Daisy Communications to £350m in revenues.

20. Duncan Bannatyne

Age at first million turnover: 47

Duncan-Bannatyne

The Scottish serial entrepreneur and Dragons’ Den investor was born into “modest circumstances” in Clydebank. Fuelled by his desire to buy himself a bike, he asked the local newsagent if he could start a paper round and drew up a list of 100 potential addresses. He got his bike, but it would be a long time yet before his first million. After being dishonourably discharged from the Navy for threatening to throw an officer off a boat landing jetty, Bannatyne started an ice cream van business, which he eventually sold for £28,000. It wasn’t until he was 47 with his care home business Quality Care Homes that he first achieved £1m revenues.

21. Sir James Dyson

Age at first million turnover: 47

The wealthiest entrepreneur on our list was also one of the latest starters, proving that age is no barrier to success. The now 70 year-old James Dyson first struck on the idea for a cyclone-powered vacuum cleaner in 1978, aged 41, after he became frustrated at the inefficiency of his vacuum cleaner. However, it wasn’t for another 16 years, in 1994, that Dyson’s eponymous business broke the £1m turnover threshold, achieving £2.4m less than a year after Dyson was incorporated. He was 47 at the time.

22. Pip Murray

Age at first million turnover: 27

Pip-Murray

A keen marathon runner, Pip Murray took the steely determination and endurance required for long distance running to break into the nut butter market in 2015. Startups Awards-winning Pip & Nut produces healthy nut butters free from palm oil, refined sugars, additives and preservatives, and has found customers in the likes of Chelsea Football Club and Pret a Manger, alongside thousands of outlets in the UK and Europe. Pip & Nut generated £3m turnover in its first full year of trading when Pip was aged 27.

23. Holly Tucker MBE

Age at first million turnover: 31

Young Gun Holly Tucker started Notonthehighstreet.com in 2006 with Sophie Cornish to help independent businesses sell their wares and reach a wider audience. Turnover rose from £100,000 in the company’s first year trading to £2.5m in 2008 when Tucker was 31. Since then, the business has continued to evolve and has even turned some of its members into millionaires along the way. Tucker left Notonthehighstreet in December 2016 to launch Holly & Co: an organisation that aims to shine a light on creative small business owners and artisans around the world.

24. Mark Wright

Age at first million turnover: 26

Making his case for being “the most successful Apprentice-winner there’s ever been”, Young Gun Mark Wright is the brains behind digital marketing agency Climb Online. The company provides SEO, social media branding and design services to help businesses – including Company Check, Groupon, and Emirates – around the world build their online presence. Within a year of starting up, Climb Online had achieved £2.8m turnvoer, enabling Wright to return business partner Lord Sugar’s £250,000 investment after just nine months.

25. Iqbal Wahhab OBE

Age at first million turnover: 36

Iqbal-Wahhab

Back in 1998, after working with a variety of top Indian and Michelin-starred French restaurants through his PR company, restaurant mogul Iqbal Wahhab saw Indian establishments had yet to match the quality and service of their Gallic counterparts. Despite having no restaurant management experience, his big ambition was to create the first Indian restaurant to get a Michelin star: The Cinnamon Club. It was a rocky road from the off, with problems securing finance, sniffy critics and Wahhab forgetting to install gas and electricity in time for the restaurant’s opening night. Nevertheless, The Cinnamon Club managed to hit sales of £2m in its first year and is now a famed London food establishment.

26. James Murray Wells OBE

Age at first million turnover: 22

Young Gun James Murray Wells started Glasses Direct when he was just 21 years old whilst studying at the University of the West of England. Faced with needing to purchase reading glasses for the first time while at university, Murray Wells was shocked to find out how expensive glasses were to buy on the high street and quickly discovered that retailers were making enormous profit margins. Inspired, Murray Wells used the final installment of his student loan to start selling glasses over the internet and his business generated £1m turnover within the first year. Murray Wells sold Glasses Direct in 2013; the year the business had achieved sales of £29.9m.

27. Al Gosling

Age at first million turnover: 28

After 18 months spent indulging his passion for windsurfing, kitesurfing and mountaineering, 2004 Young Gun Al Gosling returned to the UK convinced there was a community of extreme sports enthusiasts like him that wanted to be reached with relevant television content. After signing up a number of programmes to distribute, Gosling travelled the world to find producers who would buy his programmes. By late 1999, Extreme International had reached £1.5m turnover. As digital TV was taking off, Gosling decided to launch the Extreme Sports channel that same year. Today the Extreme Sports Company encompasses media, marketing and events around the world.

28. Ben Way

Age at first million turnover: 17

The entrepreneur who made their first million turnover at the youngest age on our list, Ben Way started helping fix his friend’s parents computers for £10 an hour. He claims to have been earning £20,000 for his computer consultancy business by the time he was 16. He left school to focus on his business full-time and within a year saw sales reach £1m, at the age of just 17. By 19, Way was worth £18m on paper. Today, Way lives in San Francisco and runs innovation company Rainmakers.

29. Rajesh Agrawal

Age at first million turnover: 29

Working for £50 a month in Chandigarh, Indian-born entrepreneur and Young Gun Rajesh Agrawal sold a motorbike to afford a one-way ticket to England in 2001 to join a foreign exchange business. He later launched RationalFX with business partner Paresh Davdra from a small office in Brighton in 2005 after convincing the bank to lend him £20,000. Just five years later in 2006, RationalFX hadn’t only achieved £1m turnover, but was already making £1m in profits. Agrawal has since exited the business and now serves as London’s deputy mayor for business.

30 & 31. James Watt and Martin Dickie

Age at first million turnover: 26

James-Watt-Martin-Dickie-BrewDog

Founded in 2007 by Young Guns James Watt and Martin Dickie, the Aberdeenshire-based BrewDog combined a punk ethos, controversial marketing stunts and ruthless business acumen to grow BrewDog into a global business within a few years. With super-strength beers served in bottles made from taxidermy animals and a mission to save beer drinkers from mass market offerings, the company had turned over £1.78m in 2009 when the pair were 26. By the end of 2011, their business has achieved revenues of over £6.5m. In April 2017, BrewDog became a unicorn following a £100m investment from US private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners.

32. Andrew Richie

Age at first million turnover: 48

The founder of the Brompton bike designed his now ubiquitous folding bicycle way back in 1975. It wasn’t until 1987 that he managed to secure funding for full production. Richie funded his passion project with jobs such as landscape gardening and building and borrowed £250 as an advance from 30 friends. Brompton turned over its first million in 1995. Richie handed over running of the company to Will Butler Adams in the late noughties, but he retains a stake in the company he worked for so long to build.

33 & 34. Peter Kindersley and Christopher Dorling

Age at first million turnover: 34 and 35

Peter Kindersley and Christopher Dorling started publishing company Dorling Kindersley in 1974, in a bid to update the dull market of reference books with heavily illustrated, full-coloured versions. Their books spanned everything from gardening, to health, natural history, and cooking. The books proved so popular that just over a year later the company had achieved £1m turnover. The duo were 35 and 36 at the time. It’s worth noting that £1m in 1975 would have been closer to £7m in today’s money!

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