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The trials and tribulations of being an internet entrepreneur

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“I didn’t follow the typical path for entrepreneurs,” says Frost, founder of online marketing agency Coast Digital and personal finance site compareandsave.com. “I left school at 16: I wasn’t much good at it, failed all my exams. My mum told me to get a job, so I did.”

The teenage Frost started writing letters to all the local solicitors and got a job as a clerk for a law firm, earning £25 a week. “It was dull,” he recalls flatly.

After a stint there, Frost moved into advertising, selling classifieds for Northcliffe newspapers. “But it wasn’t my vocation,” he says. Next up, a lucrative career in IT sales. This path is very different to that of your textbook entrepreneur. Frost was not headstrong or unmanageable. “I was very successful at the jobs I did,” he explains. “But I still didn’t enjoy them.

“Then, in 2001, I had a crisis. It was a real low point. I remember sitting with my head in my hands thinking, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ Sometimes you need these low points in order for opportunities to present themselves.”

And present themselves they did. In 2002, Frost made his debut as an internet entrepreneur. “A friend of mine had an IT company,” he says. “He’d over-expanded and had a team of five doing web-work and building sites. He had to make them redundant. It was a proper light bulb moment. I picked them up and started Coast Digital.”

Frost had no business plan, no money from the bank and no experience. “A friend and I put in £15,000 each,” he says. “But after a few months, we needed more money. I wanted to press on but my friend didn’t want to risk any more cash. It put me in an awkward situation. I fell out with my friend and bought him out of the business, investing another £50,000 to keep it going.”

It was a huge gamble. Frost had to remortgage his house, and work 14-hour days, six days a week for two years to stay afloat. “I didn’t pay myself a salary, I ran up debts of £20,000 on credit cards,” he says. “Because it was a completely new business, I had no contacts, no favours to call in. It was all cold-calling.”

But by 2004, Frost had made a name for himself. He’d reinvented the company as a digital marketing agency, which encompassed more that simple web design: PPC, SEO and other bells and whistles. Today, the company turns over £9m a year.

“One thing that always seems to stop budding entrepreneurs from starting businesses is fear. You fear what you don’t know,” says Frost. “But I knew nothing about PAYE or VAT, rent rates or national insurance. I learnt it as I went along. And now I’ve got two successful businesses under my belt and I’m worth £10m. Not bad for a drop-out, hey?”

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