After being secretive and turning down an interested Daily Mail, which wanted to write a feature about the fish pedicure craze, it was ultimately a couple of newspaper articles that triggered the fall. A front page spread from The Sun declaring that the treatment brought with it an HIV risk saw next day revenues fall by 70 per cent – and the slide from there wasn’t much gentler.
“We thought it would just be a blip and people would get over it so carried on trading. But after three weeks revenues got even worse and it wasn’t sustainable at all.”
With a big site footprint, staff to pay and no money in the bank, the newspaper pieces were enough to clip the fledgling company’s wings.
Despite spending all of the money coming in on growing the business, Walker-Smith believes that no matter how much he had in reserve, the decision to call it a day would still have been necessary.
“I did learn from that as the potential for downside was overlooked. To have all of our monthly revenues going out to pay wages and rent, starting each new month with nothing, was so reckless but I was incredibly keen to use it for expansion. All things considered, in the same situation it would be hard to hold back from fast expansion.”
Not that Walker-Smith was deterred from starting out again, far from it in fact. Before Zoola Fish had gone under he’d already been thinking about his next project, having got to the stage where the systems in place and staff count would have meant he’d be able to take a little step back.
As already mentioned, his idea for a cereal cafe ended up a physical reality despite again having no money at his disposal. But again it was a lack of wanting to shout from the rooftop about this new company that saw it stall before even getting going.
“Everything about it was wrong. I tried to make it modern, clean cut and fresh, rather than like the Cereal Killer Cafe guys now who have gone down the nostalgic, old school shabby chic vibe. Instantly I knew it wouldn’t work so was in and out within a week, but as the set up costs were low it wasn’t such a hit.
“It was annoying having spent that much time working on it but I didn’t take on the lessons from my last business – starting without reserves and buck-up.”
We now arrive at Walker-Smith’s latest business, Zoola Fix. The venture has just launched and is a return to the online roots he cultivated through his buy a pixel business. While largely a service that pairs those wanting a good night out with people who can show them one, it will be his online platform that will be the success or downfall.
Much of his early effort, alongside a laborious website build, centred on finding enough Fixers to launch with. Finding it was akin to a chicken and egg situation, potential Fixers wouldn’t buy into concept without a website and not being able to launch website without Fixers, Walker-Smith has a firm idea of the people he wants involved.
“They have to be in situations in life where they aren’t working nine till five, creative types like models, students, artists or performers. Also someone who is open minded and keen to meet new people,” he explained.
London and New York are his cities of choice for launch, leveraging his knowledge of the English capital and network of friends and acquaintances in the Big Apple. The business will derive its revenues by taking a cut of the Fixer fees, which right now range from £70 for Walker-Smith himself to £220 for Londoner “Jey”.
Coming back to his comparison with Airbnb, Walker-Smith sees no reason why his venture can’t achieve a same kind of scale the American venture capital-backed company has.
“In it’s first year Airbnb only turned over £5,000 an his now valued at £10bn. Even if in a years time I’m not getting anywhere, that doesn’t mean it won’t go anywhere eventually.”
They are big words for the 20-something year-old entrepreneur. But with some significant business building war wounds on show, who is to say he hasn’t finally found an idea with potential and longevity.
By Hunter Ruthven
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