Value My Stuff: Patrick van der Vorst
The antiques expert on creating a unique business model and impressing the Dragons
Company name: Value My Stuff Ltd. Website: www.valuemystuff.com Founders: Patrick van der Vorst Age: 39 Based: London Staff Numbers: 2 administrators and 50 experts Date started: September 2009
Tell us what your business does: ValueMyStuff.com is the only online specialist that guarantees to provide customers with a valuation of their art, paintings, silver, furniture, drawings or any other antiques and collectibles within 48 hours. With a team of over 50 experts at present, all of whom have worked for Sotheby's or Christie's, Value My Stuff holds the very best expertise, available to all.
Where did the idea for your business come from? The idea for this website started with wanting to make art expertise and valuing as easy and approachable as possible for the widest possible audience. People can feel intimidated by large auction houses or dealers and hence, often don't get the value checked for the items they have. Value My Stuff is therefore a good solution to this problem and offers a quick, easy and affordable way to check the value of objects.
How did you know there was a market for it? During my days at Sotheby's, I noticed people were intimated by large auction houses and so I know that by taking away that wall and making art expertise much more accessible, we would have a market.
What were you doing before starting up? I started working for Sotheby's when I was 24 years old. At 31 I became a director of the company and a year later became head of the furniture department.
Have you always wanted to run your own business? Yes, I guess I always had itchy feet to leave Sotheby's one day and start my own company. The most appealing side of working for oneself is that you reap the benefit of your own hard work at the end of the day.
What planning did you do before you started up?As the business is quite unique, there isn't another model out there that I could have based mine on or built a business plan around. However, after two weeks of trading and attracting my first 200 customers, I got a good idea of what the potential for the business was and only then could I build up a realistic business plan, which I did.
How did you raise the money? How easy was it?I came up with the money myself initially, which I had saved from my Sotheby's days. Seven months later I sought additional investment, and went onto Dragons' Den where I secured a £100,000 investment from Theo Paphitis and Deborah Meaden.
What challenges have you faced how have you overcome them? The main challenge was to get exposure, marketing and press coverage. The Dragons' Den appearance helped this tremendously and ever since I have been able to tap into the press, marketing and of course the Dragons' contacts in order to continue to build the business.
Where is your business based?At first the business was based at my flat where I designed the website myself initially. We moved eight months ago into an office in Victoria, but soon we will have to move to a larger office to accommodate our expansion.
How have you promoted your business? What has proved successful and what won't you do again?The most successful way to promote our business is through Google Advertising. Google Ads has proven to be a wonderful tool, and I personally spend about an hour each day fine-tuning my Google campaign. I won't be spending money again on magazine advertising which has proven to be expensive and with little return.
How much do you charge? How did you decide this?We charge £5.99 per object or else £45.99 for a bundle of 10 valuations. Back in September 2009 I started with £3.99 per object, then increased it to £4.99 last May and now it is at £5.99 which is probably the right level, reflecting value for money and also the depth of our expertise. I think at £3.99 it was too cheap and it was almost detrimental to our product, because people thought our expertise would be accordingly low.
What about staff – how many do you have?We only have two administrative staff at the moment, but will take on more staff over the next 12 months. As we are a website, and thus not client facing in real life, it is important to have a good team of colleagues to keep that human element and joy of day-to-day working.
What has your growth been like? What is your turnover? Are you where your business plan said you'd be?Growth has been very steady, from a monthly turnover of £2,500 in September 2009, to £30,000 last month and continuing to grow. We will be creating some other revenue streams shortly which should help generate more income – one will be for us to act as agents on behalf of potential sellers, another will be to provide the facility to do actual house visits and valuations in situ, thus taking our expertise outside the online forum.
What's the impact on your home life been like?All good and well; as I am single and live alone, home life hasn't been affected and I still see family and friends as much as before. I just need more of a stiff drink at times!
What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?Creating a whole new business which is unique in every shape or form – the business is breaking the mould of tradition. Antique and art businesses are always considered to be very traditional and ‘old school' so to speak, so the difficulty was to offer those same services in a fresh and innovative way.
What was your first big breakthrough?Getting our first client who valued 50 items was a huge breakthrough, as well as securing Theo and Deborah's involvement.
What would you do differently? i.e. what have you learnt?I should have decided sooner to create a professional looking website. The home-made version of my website ran for seven months which was too long. I should have upgraded sooner to the slicker design that the website has.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?Just keep your head down, work hard, take any advice on board and go for it! Overall it is quite a lonely experience, and you are very much in it on your own, so to have any mentor on-board or advisors in the background would be very useful and fruitful.
Where do you want to be in five years' time? Do you have an exit plan?There's no concrete exit plan, but hopefully in five years' time we will be the leading online and offline valuation place, where collectors, buyers or just anyone may come to have the value of their items checked. Hopefully in five years' time people will think of us first, rather than any auction house, which I do think is achievable.