The Entrepreneur: Matt Barker, MPB

Following its recent debut in the 2015 Tech Track 100, MPB's Barker talks £50m growth projections, bank support and the drawbacks of going it alone

Founder: Matt Barker
Company: MPB
Website: www.mpb.com
Description in one line: MPB is the leading technology platform in Europe for trading high-end cameras and lenses.
Turnover: £10m
12 month target: £20m

Business growth

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

  • mpb.com is the leading technology platform in Europe for trading high-end cameras and lenses.
  • Unlike traditional marketplaces mpb.com is not just a directory for users to list items for sale, instead we provide a complete end to end experience.
  • mpb handles everything from the initial quote through collecting the items, taking ownership of the products before reselling.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Being one of the very few tech companies to have genuinely bootstrapped our growth, culminating in our recent listing in the Sunday Times Tech Track 100.

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

We are a heavily metrics-driven business. Data is at the heart of what we do every day. At a very macro level I will look at sales, purchasing and a variety of key traffic and conversion stats.

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

97% of our trade is currently in the UK. We are launching into Germany in November and plan to follow up with France in February. We are also just completing on our US office in Manhattan ahead of our full US rollout in January.

Describe your growth funding path:

We have taken a very non-traditional path as a tech business. So far we have used a combination of organically growing the business through reinvesting profits and we have also had an excellent relationship with our bank, which has provided significant debt support with the government-backed EFG scheme.

We are currently in the process of doing our first equity round which will be crowdfunded through a combination of angel investors, high net worth individuals and our very own customers. In addition to this, we are exploring further funding facilities through our bank, which remains committed to building on our strong relationship.

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

Not so much a specific technology as the process that we use for development. We are very strict in our approach to any development project and we don’t use off-the-shelf systems (aside from payment gateways and marketing tools).

Whilst it has been painful at times, we have always built systems completely from scratch using the latest processes and languages and this has ensured that we truly stand apart now in terms of what our system is capable of and also the flexibility of our roadmap moving forward.

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

We are forecasting revenue growth of 500% over the next three years to take us to £50m in revenue. This growth will come through continued UK expansion along with our launches into Germany, France and Scandinavia.

Growth challenges

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

Owning and running a business throws huge challenges at you every day! Overall though, I would say that maintaining a balance in other areas of your life is probably the most difficult thing. There are times when you just about get the balance right, but whilst you continue to grow, this rarely lasts very long before the next challenge disrupts things all over again.

What was your biggest business mistake?

Staying too long with a bank and a bank manager who had no interest in the business that we were building! Moving banks and managers in the process was the best thing we ever did, but we waited too long before doing so. I would urge any entrepreneur to assess their banking relationship.

If your manager isn’t able to tell somebody what you do and hasn’t been in contact in the last three months, then it’s time to move on and find a bank that will provide support to fundamentally change your business and your future.

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

It is not so much Red Tape as a need for change at HMRC. Generally speaking, the UK government is far too lax at allowing traders to do business online without paying their relevant taxes, especially VAT.

This creates an unfair advantage and is something that HMRC need to seriously improve their processes and legislation on.

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

Shying away from taking on any form of bank support or debt to expand their business, even where they clearly have a very sound and scalable business. We continue to be far too risk-averse, especially compared to attitudes in the US.

How will your market look in three years?

At a macro-level the online landscape for trading secondhand goods is going through dramatic change. Companies are forming into specific product verticals and offering a much better experience than eBay. I anticipate that most secondhand trade online will take place directly with companies such as mpb, rather than peer-to-peer.

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

Don’t go it alone. I did for too long. Get out there, meet people, go to events and make yourself known as you never know where one conversation can take you.

Personal growth

Biggest luxury:

Probably travelling in comfort on planes; it’s expensive but necessary when travelling for work.

Executive education or learn it on the job?

Business should be learnt on the job.

What would make you a better leader?

A larger senior team to allow me to connect more with my staff directly. Time is finite and you rarely have as much as you would like to lead your team the way you want to.

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

Business: Slack  Personal: Instagram

Business book:

Screw It, Let’s Do It – Lessons in Life by Sir Richard Branson

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