Today MyVoucherCodes.co.uk works with 80 per cent of the UK’s leading online retailers including Marks & Spencer, John Lewis, Debenhams, Thomson Holidays and Argos.
Last year, Pearson sold the business, which was a wholly-owned company, to mobile payments firm Monitise in a deal worth £55m.
“The idea for MyVoucherCodes was something of a slow sub-conscious build-up to that eureka moment, I think,” said Pearson. “I’d started a business called ‘Roses by Design’. It was an online business where customers could order roses that would have messages written on their petals. I started dabbling in affiliate marketing on the site and, I actually ended up making more money in commission from big flower companies than I was with the product that I was offering.”
It was Pearson’s experience growing up in a house where money was tight that inspired him. “I’d often see my mum cutting coupons out to use at the shop, so I was always conscious of the need to save money,” he explained. “The turning point was when I was buying a train ticket once. I spotted the ‘voucher code’ box that we’re all so familiar with now and it hit me – nobody else was collating voucher codes in the UK.” He used an outsourcing web building society site and ended up having MyVoucherCodes built for just £300 over a single weekend.”
Pearson had trained as a chef and had worked at Claridge’s hotel in London, among other places, but his interest lay in developing his own business and, in particular, something that could be scaled up. He regards scalability and the potential to replicate the product and grow as essential for building a successful business.
He launched MyVoucherCodes in the middle of the recession just before Christmas, a time when people were particularly keen on finding bargains. “There was initial pushback in the form of people being unsure that using voucher codes was legal, tempered by concerns at the time of the security of online shopping,” he said. “I was very fortunate that it took off very, very quickly. Once people realised they could save money, which meant – through commission – the retailer would pay me, it just grew and grew.”
As a result, the site was self-funding and Pearson didn’t need to look anywhere else for investment. “Often people assume selling would have been my best moment, but for me opening my first office in Croydon was probably the stand-out point,” he said. “I’d been running it remotely up to that point and ended up building a team of 100 or so there, so to see everybody working towards success in a company I’d started was just phenomenal.”
That said, the voucher codes market was and is very competitive and Pearson found himself up against companies with major backers and deep pockets. He believes that his challenging experience as a child has helped him in his business life.
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“I just think it makes me appreciate everything that little bit more,” he added. “That could just be me, but when you haven’t had a great deal of money, it makes any success that bit more meaningful. Sweeping statement time, but I often find the people that have come from less have that bit more of a desire to succeed.”
As well as MyVoucherCodes.co.uk, Pearson’s extensive portfolio of more than 20 investments includes Last Second Tickets, which works directly with promoters, producers and venues to secure discounts for live music, entertainment events and leisure experiences and Playlists.net, which was bought by Warner Music Group in 2014. He was one of the earliest and biggest investors in Ve Interactive, a British “unicorn” tech firm, now worth more than £1.2bn.
Pearson has also recently launched Fuel Ventures, an investment fund. “As always, I’m thinking big – I want Fuel Ventures to be the fund people think about when they think about early-stage ecommerce investment in Europe,” he said.
He’s also creating a London-based startup incubation studio, having delivered a return on investments in the European ecommerce sector that is 70 times the average up to this point. Not bad for a boy from a council estate.
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