SportPursuit: Adam Pikett and Victoria Walton

The co-founders on finding cheap offices in Mayfair, and why start-ups must persevere to find the low percentage of people willing to say “yes”

Name: Victoria Walton, Adam Pikett, Rhys Jones
Age: 29, 31 and 28
Company: SportPursuit
Staff numbers: Nine (including the SportPursuit dog)
Company description: Sport flash-sales
Website: www.SportPursuit.co.uk
Tell us what your business does:

SportPursuit.co.uk is the UK’s first sport flash-sales website, combining top sports brands and fantastic prices in our seven day flash-sales. Each sale is specific to one brand and offers a tailored range which showcases the brand.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

Flash-sales sites have sprung up rapidly across the UK in recent years. Historically, flash-sales sites have focused on fashion and homewares, however there wasn’t anything out there for sportspeople who wanted to find a great bargain.

As keen sportspeople ourselves, we’d spent hours trawling the web for great prices on brands. SportPursuit helps manage this, putting all the bargains together in one place, while using the flash-sale concept to make shopping more exciting.

How did you know there was a market for it?

The sportswear market in the UK is very large, worth in excess of £8bn a year, and many customers are looking for bargains given the economic uncertainty.

A recent Accenture survey revealed that, in the US, 54% of households earning over $150,000 a year now subscribe to a daily deals site. So the fundamental characteristics of the market felt good for a sports flash-sale site.

Given these characteristics we made our unique selling point very simple: great sports brands at unbeatable prices. We work hard to combine this with great customer service managed by us, the founders of the business.

What were you doing before starting up?

Victoria was working in retail as a manager at OC&C Strategy Consultants and previously studied biochemistry at Oxford. Adam was associate partner, also at OC&C, and has nine years’ experience working in retail and consumer goods. He studied chemical engineering and management at Cambridge. Rhys was investment manager at Summit Partners, but previously worked at OC&C as well. He studied engineering at Oxford.

Have you always wanted to run your own business?

We all come from entrepreneurial families. Victoria’s dad founded and sold Udex, a data aggregation business, while Adam’s mum started her own business at age 14.  Running our own businesses is in our blood!

The most appealing thing about being your own boss is that everything you do really makes a difference. If it’s not important, you don’t do it and, if it is, you put everything into it and really make it happen.

How did you raise the money?

To date the business is entirely self-financed. We are investing all the money we’ve saved over the last five to 10 years in the business, to prove the concept for other investors.

Now we’ve done that, we are in the process of raising seed funding from friends, angels investors and potentially venture capitalists (VCs), to give the business the kind of cash injection that will take it from a good idea to a self-sustainable business.

How did you find suppliers?

Finding suppliers is one of the easier parts of starting a retail business – ultimately brands need retailers. We got a good headstart at ISPO, one of the largest outdoor and ski shows in the world, and haven’t really looked back since then.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

You only ever face one challenge in business; it’s a short two-letter word and one of the easiest to say – “no”.

When you kick off, you’ve got lots of energy, a great idea and all you need to do is make it happen. However, you need to find the low percentage of people who are willing to say “yes”, take a chance and give themselves that little bit of extra work to do.

Those people are out there, you just have to keep on looking. One of our friends says: “Starting a business is like being kicked in the nuts 100 times a day. All you have to do is keep getting up.”

What planning did you do before you started up?

As strategy consultants, planning is what we did for a living. We spoke to potential suppliers and investors, researched the market and built a business plan – to make sure we had something worth going for. It was only then we decided to take the leap and began quitting our jobs.

How have you promoted your business?

As on online retail business there are a huge range of opportunities and we have started trialling them, putting more money into what works.

The low point was probably getting thrown out of the car park at the London Triathlon Expo for handing out flyers to the athletes who were competing or about to compete – but we got good new members, so in reality it was time well spent!

How much do you charge?

SportPursuit is free to join so there is no cost to becoming a member. In terms of our product prices, we aim to be the cheapest in the UK and to hit a discount of 50-70% off the RRP.

Where is your business based?

We’re based in Mayfair. Ironically, we found this office offered the cheapest rent we could find anywhere in Central London, because it’s a stub end lease on a building that is scheduled for demolition. What you win from nice neighbours, you lose on interior décor!

What has your growth been like?

The business has grown very rapidly since we’ve launched, with revenues increasing at 50-100% a month.

What’s the impact on your home life been like?

We’ve come from careers where proofreading documents at 4am is not uncommon. Against that, starting your own business is a walk in the park in the hours stakes.

However, what it (slightly) reduces in hours, it makes up for in emotional intensity. Starting your own business is hard – don’t be under any illusion – but it’s fun. You get to take your dream and make it happen. What can be better than that?

What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?

Finding a dog-friendly office to house Bentley, SportPursuit’s labradoodle (and most recent recruit)! Of course, it also had to offer flexible lease terms and low cost per square foot.

What was your first big breakthrough?

There are so many breakthroughs, each bigger than the next. Finding someone we trusted to advise us, getting the first supplier to sign up, a working website, our first sale, our 10,000th member – they all add up.

Every day we are looking forward to the next big thing, whether it’s a sale with our favourite outdoor brand or adding 1,000 members in a day for the first time.

What would you do differently?

Listen to the advice of people you trust the first time. The greatest pearl of wisdom looking back was: “Raise money before you start – no one can prove your vision isn’t right.”

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

I read a book by Felix Dennis, which had two excellent pieces of advice…

1) Unless you are willing to work harder than anyone you know don’t become an entrepreneur.

2) Beg, steal, borrow, plead to get what you need to get the business going.

Follow those two and you’ve got a decent chance. Ultimately, a good idea is nice to have, but a successful business is all about execution.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

Maybe back in our office in Mayfair, once it has been refurbished, being able to afford the rent on the building when it looks a little more glamorous!

In all seriousness, we have big plans for the business but only time will tell if we can really nail it – so you’ll have to watch this space.

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