The Entrepreneur: Olly Olsen, The Office Group

The co-founder of the £40m flexible workspace firm talks self-belief, the importance of having a business partner and plans to expand in the US

Co-founder and CEO: Olly Olsen
Company: The Office Group
Description in one line: Design-led flexible workspaces
Previous companies: None
Turnover: £41m
12 month target: £50m

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

  • Considered design and true flexibility. We are mindful of the work/life tension and the need for comfortable drop-in workspaces.
  • Simplicity is key. Workspaces must be designed for purpose as well as aesthetic.
  • Community is everything; relationships are the beginning of creativity and progress.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Starting The Office Group.

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

Customer complaints….I’ll let you know when that day arrives.

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

I’ve been eyeing up New York and San Francisco.

Describe your growth funding path:

Lloyd Dorfman (founder of Travelex) invested in the business and funded our expansion. We refinanced in 2012 to enable future growth. Dorfman is our majority shareholder.

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

Online search has revolutionised the way we find what we need. Great ideas are now being realised and made into businesses solely because of the Internet. Search engines are fundamental to the service industry or any business that wants to get their product out there.

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

Three years is a very long time, lots can happen. However, my 12 month plan involves making sure the business is structured to allow continued growth. I will be disappointed if I don’t reach this goal.

Growth challenges

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

I’ve made some difficult HR decisions for the good of the business. In the long term these decisions will prove invaluable to the vibrant infrastructure of The Office Group. It is the people within an organisation that make an organisation what it is.

What was your biggest business mistake?

In the past I may not have been as assertive as I needed to be. I could have recognised errors quicker and dealt with them accordingly.

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

Funding. Without it there is no room for improvement or growth. The UK is full of innovative entrepreneurs that are not on the investment radar. Part of my responsibility is to support the entrepreneurial network within our company and give them a platform and space to thrive in. Without them we would not exist.

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

A lot of entrepreneurs are lacking self-belief because we live in a nation where failure is unacceptable. Failure is part of the learning experience. Confidence is a must-have in order to survive as a self-starter.

How will your market look in three years?

There is an explicit decrease in commitment to office space and a continued growth in demand for flexibility. As a result, lease lengths are shortening and must be personalised. We tailor our spaces to the lifestyle and business choices of our members. People want shared spaces that offer chance collaboration and community, not a standard grey office that does not inspire or motivate.

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

Get yourself a partner. The dream wouldn’t have been possible without my partner Charlie Green. We have been able to share the burden and experience together. Relationships and teamwork are the heart and soul of every organisation. Big ideas need to be cultivated properly and two minds are more effective than one.

Personal growth

Biggest luxury:

My family and my bicycle.

Executive education or learn it on the job?

Learn it on the job. I left school at 16, stopped learning at 15. I am very happy with the experiences I have learned along the way. This route builds character and personality, two necessities that are not guaranteed with a degree.

What would make you a better leader?

Compliment people and recognise brilliance more often.

Business book:

The only book that has grabbed my attention is Now for Then: How to Face the Digital Future without Fear by Ben Hammersley.

Olly Olsen is participating in the Ride25 Pioneers bike ride from Geneva to Milan.


(will not be published)