First up, the Young Entrepreneur interviews. Anna Bance, founder of Girl Meets Dress, was first into the lair. John Caudwell, founder of Phones4U, Will "King of Shaves" King and Vin Murria, CEO of Advance Computer Software and parter at Elder Street all lay in wait to quiz the young entrepreneur over her online couture hire firm.
Bance’s co-founder, Xavier de Lecaros-Aquise was along for moral support. He stayed in the Green Room to chat to Real Business while Bance fielded questions from the judges next door.
"It all happened really quickly," he said. "We had the idea in May last year, had the soft launch of the website in September and then we were off." The company was funded by Bance and de Lecaros-Aquise with no debt, though the co-founder says it wasn’t too hard to keep costs low. "Interns don’t mind working for free when they get experience in the fashion industry. Plus they get to wear the dresses!" he says.
The entrepreneurial pair are hoping to copy the success of Boden, which sees 14,000 orders a day. "This model is definitely scalable," says de Lecaros-Aquise.
Next up, RB columnist and Struq founder Sam Barnett hits the Green Room. "I’m not nervous," he says with a little shrug. "Should I be?" he adds nervously. Struq is a behavioural advertising company making big waves in the technology space. Barnett gives us a sneaky peek at his next column: "It’s about the angel services," he reveals. "We’re going to name and shame the big offenders who charge entrepreneurs to pitch, then take a share of their raised funds. The whole of Twitter is in uproar about it."
We’re waiting with baited breath, Sam!
Dan Conlon, founder of Humyo, the free online storage and backup firm, has to face the judges next. But he’s appearing via videoconferencing. We hear the muted voices of Martin Allison, chairman of the Alternative Board, and Andrew Haigh from Coutts demanding turnover figures through the wall.
Neil Waller and James Street founded mydestinationinfo.com in 2006. The pair both had holiday homes in Marbella and decided to launch a holiday website featuring all their local knowledge for visitors. "Before we knew it, we had 33 advertisers buying postage stamp-sized spots on the site," says Waller. The pair deferred their final year studying business at university to pursue the franchise travel website business. "Needless to say, we never went back," laughs Waller.
Today, the business boasts 31 destinations worldwide with three million people visiting their portfolio of websites every year. "We started the business with £600," continues Waller. "Then we each invested £10,000. Not bad for a business that now turns over £517,000."
It’s lucky that Waller and Street arrive early for their interviews because – shock, horror! – Jamie Murray Wells, the Glasses Direct founder, is running late. We hastily switch around the interviews and the lads bravely go in to face the judges. Meanwhile, Murray Wells arrives, panting and stressed. "They closed the tube station at Kings Cross," he explains.
Murray Wells has ten minutes to cram up on his figures, "You’re not going to test me are you?" he asks anxiously, before being ushered into the den. Luckily, the internet entrepreneur knows his onions. The business has grown 50-60 per cent year-on-year since inception and Murray Wells has big plans for the future. "I want to get designer brands like Gucci and Prada on board to raise basket values," he says. "We’re also going to go into design."
That’s it for the Young Entrepreneur category. To find out who will win the coveted prize, come to the Growing Business Awards on 26 November. Click here to book tickets.
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