The Entrepreneur: Chris Holbrook, Free Postcode Lottery
By giving away money for free, Holbrook has built a winning business model. Here, he talks marketing, favourite tech, and why he'd quite like a podium...
Founder: Chris Holbrook
Company: Free Postcode Lottery Ltd
Description in one line: A daily ad-funded free lottery where your postcode is your ticket
Turnover: Enough to give away over £162,000 per year in prizes, give some away to charity, employ five full-time staff and keep some for myself!
12 month target: We want to be giving away £500,000 per year in the next 12 months.
Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:
- We share revenue with users so that they share our site with their friends.
- We respect our users so that they feel part of our growth.
- We are honest, friendly and kind.
What is your greatest business achievement to date?
Creating a success from my first business.
What numbers do you look at every day in your business?
Daily revenue, unique visitors, page views, registrations, and the time on my watch so I know what time to go home and see my daughter!
To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?
We've launched a version of the site in Germany as an experiment. If it works we'll target a number of other countries including the US.
Describe your growth funding path:
I have funded the business and built it myself.
What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?
- PayPal: It allows me to pay prizes to people using their email address, rather than having to collect and store bank details. This makes it much more secure, a more seamless experience for the members and, in the early days at least, it helped overcome potential trust issues.
- Online advertising: The online advertising industry has become sufficiently developed to allow us to serve ads to all of our users automatically without having to book them in directly. This would be a massive overhead given the number and variety of users that we have.
- Online collaboration tools like Slack: We have an office but the website is live 24/7. Slack allows the team to enjoy each others' company both inside and outside of office hours and collaborate when necessary.
Where would you like your business to be in three years?
We want to continue growing our turnover and user base by 300% per year. In three years' time we want to be approaching what we see as the saturation point, where 20% of the UK population will be regularly visiting the website. We are ramping up investment to achieve this.
We would also like to have launched more international versions and/or domestic spin-offs.
What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?
I quit my boring IT consultancy job and become a much lower-paid self-taught freelance web developer.
What was your biggest business mistake?
Trying to do everything by myself for too long. I only hired my first full-time employee in September last year – that was four and a half years by myself.
Whilst the ability to work alone and turn my hand to many things helped launch the business I do believe my determination to carry on alone hampered the early growth of the business.
Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:
I really can't think of anything. I'm either coping well with the current business environment or blissfully walking into danger!
What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?
Focusing too much on being an “entrepreneur” and not focusing on what their businesses need to succeed.
How will your market look in three years?
I think businesses are starting to understand that there is a commercial advantage to being respectful and transparent to users/customers. If there isn't this transparency, then your business is most probably not sustainable.
Customers are getting more savvy and less prone to deception, while on the flip-side customers love to share things that they enjoy and feel a part of. The best marketing is the stuff you don't pay for.
What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?
Don't try to be an entrepreneur. Focus on what your business does well and why your customers/users will tell other people about it.
Having an office within walking distance to my house.
Executive education or learn it on the job?
LEARN IT ON THE JOB (capitalised for emphasis).
What would make you a better leader?
What one thing do you wish you’d known when you started?
The next week's winning lottery numbers. Aside from that…
One business app and one personal app you can’t do without:
Business: – FreeAgent, for managing accountancy stuff and giving me easy access to figures that are ultimately boring but necessary to know.
Personal: – Scrabble. I love playing scrabble and its so convenient to have it in my pocket.
No, no, no! If you're reading a business book you're not an entrepreneur. You just think you are.