Murpha worked in the non-surgical hair replacement industry for five years prior to launching Optima Hair. Following a row with his employer over charity work, he decided to take the plunge and strike out on his own. “We had a kid come in whose dad had spilled a kettle of boiling water over his head at four years old,” he says. “I wanted to treat him for free. But the boss said no. That’s when I knew I had to start my own company.”
Murpha set up shop in his bedroom with one chair, one stylist and four clients that had followed him from his previous company. He knew that he wanted to set up a charitable arm of the company from the outset, so he approached a local children’s hospital and offered to treat their kids for free. Optima Hair currently helps 200 children who are affected by hair loss every year.
However, not everyone in the industry is so charitable. A competitor, keen to put Murpha out of business, launched a campaign of terror against the budding entrepreneur. “I had machetes put up to my throat,” recalls Murpha. “They threatened to hurt me and my family if I didn’t leave the area. It was a rival company that sent the heavies in. I was tempted to just give in, but I just couldn’t let them get the upper hand.”
Murpha was under police protection for six months and had to move house to get away from his attackers. “They even threatened to track down my mum and dad in Spain,” he says. “They were going to throw acid in my mum’s face.” But he was unable to catch the criminals behind the threats: “Even the police admitted that these guys were so serious that it wouldn’t be a good idea to press charges,” says Murpha. “And eventually, once they realised I wasn’t going anywhere, they gave up.”
Now, five years on, Optima Hair boast 850 clients and a turnover of £650,000. Murpha predicts that next year, the firm will reach the £1m mark. But it hasn’t been easy. “I haven’t had a holiday in six years,” laughs Murpha. “And I had a nervous breakdown last year. I still can’t do to much advertising over social networks like Facebook in case I catch the attention of that company again and they come to get me.”
And yet, Murpha’s getting ready to do it all again, with a hair follicle replication company. “I just acquired a third of a company that tattoos skin to look like hair follicles,” he says. “No cash exchanged hands, they want me to take over the promotion and marketing and take a hand in the operations. I’m expecting to see revenues of £200,000 in its first year under my leadership.”
Let’s just hope there isn’t a renegade machete-wielding competitor on the prowl this time around.