£300 start-up to £55m exit: Mark Pearson's journey to success
Posted: Tue 10th Nov 2015
Mark Pearson started MyVoucherCodes for just £300 in 2006 and sold it in 2014 for £55m. He now runs Fuel.Ventures, a Â£30m fund for ecommerce businesses. The entrepreneur tells the story behind his success and shares his advice.
What were you doing before you started MyVoucherCodes?
Possibly the oddest thing I could have been doing!
I moved down to London when I was 18, having been offered a job at Claridge's in the kitchen. I worked there for a little while, then left and worked at a little start-up restaurant in south London.
I got offered an opportunity from someone who had their own pubs and I ended up running three of my own restaurants at the age of 21. But I came to a crunch point where I was struggling to scale it.
It was all about scale for me and the best way I could see scaling a business was the internet.
I settled on an idea I called Roses by Design. It was a small online business which allows customers to order roses that would have messages written on their petals. It was whilst working on Roses by Design that I found affiliate marketing.
How did you come up with the idea for MyVoucherCodes?
I was doing SEO and paid search for Roses by Design which was completely self-taught. I was also dabbling in social media, bearing in mind this was very early stage. I built an email list and then, in what was perhaps the biggest turning point, I started dabbling in affiliate marketing and launched an affiliate programme for retailers.
From that business I realised that a good place to scale online was to be a publisher. It was easy to push beyond local and seasonal sales.
MyVoucherCodes was one of those perfect ideas at a perfect time. Growing up, we didn't have much money, so I'd see my mum cutting coupons out to use at the shop. I was buying a train ticket once and spotted the 'voucher code' box we're all so familiar with now, and it hit me. Everything just fell into place in my mind.
I looked around and no one else was collating voucher codes in the UK, so I used an outsourcing site and ended up having MyVoucherCodes built for Â£300 over one weekend!
What were the early business challenges you faced and how did those challenges change as the business grew?
One of the early challenges was convincing journalists and the public that this was legal, believe it or not! There was a resistance to it, as in 'you don't get money off without buying the product', whereas, of course, discounting has been a sales strategy for businesses forever. There was still though the concern about the security of buying online.
However, we launched in the middle of the recession in time for Christmas, at a time people were open to looking at ways to tighten their belts, and though there was that initial pushback, I was very fortunate that it took off very, very quickly. Once people realised they could save money, which meant, through commission, that the retailer would pay me, it just grew and grew.
The challenges for me were always keeping ahead of the curve. If you build an actual million pound idea, competitors tend to crop up quickly. SEO and PR helped us stay ahead.
How did you fund the business? Why did you decide to not bring in external investors?
Given it costed £300, I didn't actually need funding, and it was very profitable from day one, so there was just never a need at that early stage.
Why did you decide to sell and how did you settle on Monitise as the buyer?
It was always a case of waiting for the right offer and the right time for me. Online shopping was becoming much more common on mobile, which meant money saving was too. Monitise are big in the mobile space and it just seemed like a great fit.
Why do you think MyVoucherCodes has been so successful?
Right place, right time, win-win all around concept, great team and constantly pushing to remain top. It consumed us all; that desire to stay top of search rankings and to be the first place people came to when they were looking to save money.
Why did you decide to set up Fuel.Ventures and what do you hope it will achieve?
I'd already been investing for a few years successfully as an individual, and when it came to working out the next steps, I'd built up all this experience in helping businesses both grow and exit, so it made perfect sense to throw myself into building a fund with other experienced people. That way, we can invest bigger, in greater volume. We've opened a studio in High Street Kensington in London and actually work with the companies we invest in on a day to day basis.
Like always, I'm thinking big, so the idea for me is to build Fuel into Europe's biggest and best-known early-stage e-commerce investment fund.
What are your three top tips for business success?
1. Stop faffing. Go out with what you have and not what you want! Build and develop as time goes on.
2. Build with scale in mind. If your business is successful, what's the next step up?
3. Don't marry yourself to your current business model, especially if you can be more successful focusing on other areas. I don't mean every business needs to pivot, I just mean that closed-mindedness and inability to adapt has killed plenty of businesses.