The Entrepreneur: Barnaby Lashbrooke, Time Etc

The freelance specialist is a fan of flexible working, thinks entrepreneurs should be wary of raising investment and advocates learning on the job...

Founder:  Barnaby Lashbrooke
Company: Time Etc
Website: www.timeetc.co.uk
Description in one line: Time Etc provides highly talented assistants and remote help to busy and time strapped business owners
Previous companies: SupaNames, a web hosting company with 24,000 customers
Turnover: £1.5m
12 month target: £1.7m

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

  • There are many freelancer websites but, before Time Etc, they were all self-service marketplaces.
  • We offer a fully managed service through vetting, testing and handpicking every freelancer on our platform
  • We give every client a dedicated project manager to check tasks are done on time and to the highest standard.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

It used to be surviving the recession that struck just after we launched, but these days I think it’s successfully establishing the business in the USA, despite having no physical presence there.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

The number of new clients, the number of lost clients and the average task rating for the day. Client retention is absolutely key to our business and we’re obsessive about measuring it.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

In October 2012 we launched in the USA as we felt the American market had embraced the concept of a ‘virtual workforce’ even faster than the UK, or anywhere else. We knew the demand was there and we weren’t wrong. Next we’re keen to expand our operations in Canada and Australia.

Describe your growth funding path:

The business had a single cash injection of £267,00 and has received no other funding since this. Today profit funds its current and future growth.

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

Without the internet in general we wouldn’t exist. Reliable and affordable internet access globally means that we can find more and more qualified freelancers who would ordinarily find it harder to get work.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

We’d like to hit the £3m revenue milestone and continue our international expansion where possible. We may also expand our range of services.

Growth challenges

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

Probably realising the model we created for Time Etc in the early years wasn’t going to work for us in the long term and was slowly killing us. Having the courage to significantly change our entire business model a few years ago was extremely challenging but has been very rewarding. We’ve never looked back.

What was your biggest business mistake?

I sold my first business in web hosting to a UK plc for a multi-million pound sum and ploughed £267,000 from that sale into Time Etc. With hindsight, that was a big mistake. The start-up really didn’t need a cash injection of such epic proportions. It was right at the beginning of the recession, but the real problem was that I just didn’t start the business cleverly or cost-efficiently. I was 24 and naïve. It was a huge lesson learned.

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

It’s the outdated rules around worker and contractor classification – particularly in the USA. Governments have an incentive to ensure that the majority of taxes are collected and paid centrally rather than encouraging people to set up on their own as freelancers. This means they have a framework of very outdated principles that they use to decide whether or not a worker is an employee or freelancer.

These principles are often wide open to interpretation and not very friendly to the army of ‘sharing economy’ services and websites like Time Etc. Ensuring that we are compliant with every single rule in every sense, in all locations around the world, is an expensive bit of red tape for us.

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

Don’t assume that borrowing loads of money to get your venture off the ground is a prerequisite for success. There is so much more to a business than its investors, and it’s completely possible to make a success of your start-up without breaking the bank. I see too many start-ups focusing purely on where the next round of money is coming from. In reality, you need to focus on having the right service, right product and inject passion.

How will your market look in three years?

Our industry is worth about $1bn today and within the next three years that’ll be more like $5bn, so our market will see rapid growth. As small and medium business owners look to bootstrap their enterprises, and freelancing increasingly becomes a career choice, virtual employees will become more prolific.

Many small and medium-sized enterprises are already outsourcing specialist roles like IT management, web design and HR but there’s no reason – other than habit – why personal assistants credit controllers, administration staff, project managers and even receptionists shouldn’t work remotely, saving small businesses money on office space, equipment, and the other associated costs of growing an in-office workforce.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Establish if there is demand at the level you need to have a viable business first – and worry about building tech and features second. Works every time!

Personal growth

Biggest luxury:

Flexible working – being able to work when I want and not sticking to set hours. For me it makes extremely hard work feel like fun.

Executive education or learn it on the job?

Learnt on the job. I didn’t go to university and started my first business when I was just 17. It was a web-hosting company I ran from my bedroom in my parents’ house, which grew very rapidly.

What would make you a better leader?

Being able to communicate my vision and passion more effectively – I really look up to leaders who can communicate this stuff at all levels and excite a wide audience with their vision.

One business app and one personal app you can’t do without:

For business, it has to be Uber. It’s essential for stress-free hopping between multiple meetings in London or New York. And personally, I couldn’t do without Spotify – I absolutely love having the world’s music with me wherever I am.

Business book:

Hooked – How To Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal.

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