Do you have ambitions to start up your own business and be your own boss? Gwen Cheeseman spoke to two entrepreneurs who are following their dreams.
Name: Anthony Eskinazi
'Things like this happen once in a lifetime. You have to grab opportunities." Spoken like a true go-getter, these are the words of Anthony Eskinazi, 23-year-old PQ, web entrepreneur and rising media star.
A few months ago, while being taken to a Giants baseball game in San Francisco, Eskinazi had his 'eureka' moment. "We were driving around for ages looking for a place to park, and I noticed lots of empty driveways in front of private houses," he explains. "Then I flippantly said to my friend that 'wouldn't it be great if we could knock on the door of one of those houses and offer them $10 to park there?' Then I thought more seriously about what I'd just said, and the idea of the website came from there."
This chance thought led to Eskinazi's founding of www.justpark.com, a website that connects those who have a parking space in the UK - near stadiums, restaurants, theatres and hospitals, etc - with those who need a place to park. "I 'Googled' my idea first, and saw that no one was doing it or anything similar, either here or in the US. So I told a few friends about my idea. They were unanimous, telling me to go for it. Which is what I did."
Confident and quite obviously ambitious, Eskinazi seems to have an air of success about him. When we meet he comes across as particularly media-savvy, relaxed about talking about himself and his website, but without ever sounding smug. More exactly, he seems to be treating it as a wonderful opportunity and a ride on the wave of media fame. Rather sweetly, he hardly mentions how much hard work he's put into the project. He's just started on a graduate trainee course with Deloitte and is studying to become an ACA, on top of running www.justpark.com. It's only when pushed he quietly admits he was working so hard at one point that he was only getting a few hours' sleep each night.
Holding a degree in maths from Leeds, Eskinazi admits he has a logical and analytical mind, and has always had leanings towards running his own business. One of his first exploits was setting himself and a website up as a computer fixer in his local area of London. Still living with his parents - as he does now - Eskinazi set out to create a business plan and launch the idea of www.parkatmyhouse.com. After researching legal and other issues and getting advice from friends, he was ready to go, and launched the site from his bedroom. He then sent out a press release, which in a matter of two hours resulted in BBC London and other BBC regionals contacting him, as well as BBC Radio 5 Live. And the next day he featured in The London Paper, one of the city's free newspapers. This resulted in over 55,000 hits on his website. Not bad on day one of the official launch. "I'm still pinching myself," Esknazi laughs. "And I've been interviewed for the morning show on one of the top 40 radio stations in the US. It went out to seven million listeners. It's amazing. I'm really relishing it."
Already enjoying the beginnings of his accountancy training, he tells me that within three weeks of starting his course "I now know how to do my own accounts", obviously very useful for an entrepreneur. Although to date he has made a grand total of 80p, but has put up in excess of £4,500, the prospect of franchises to other countries means he could, in theory, make a tidy profit from his idea. And these franchises are pretty much on the table, with Eskinazi currently talking to people in Canada, the US, Spain and France among others. And his new empire is still masterminded from his bedroom, which he says currently contains three PCs, scanners and printers with which he jostles for space. And he's also had to get in some help. His childhood friend, Katie Harvey, has joined parkatmyhouse.com from a PR background to handle the media side of things. "It's quite strange, having my bedroom as a place of work from 9am to 7pm. But then again, a lady who interviewed me in Utah said: 'You've changed the way we park in the western world.' And I just thought 'wow'."
Hook, line and sinker
Name: Mitchell Tonks
Background: Former accountant
Mitchell Tonks is a 40-year-old entrepreneur, who after spending the first 24 years of his life by the sea - sailing on it, skiing on it and fishing in it - decided to fulfil his passion for seafood by opening a specialist fishmongers in Bath. This was a radical career change from his previous work as an accountant. From the first step of opening a seafood café above a fishmongers in 1997, Tonks' original idea of a combined restaurant and shop has now multiplied into a successful chain - FishWorks - across the UK. To top it all he has appeared on countless TV cookery and food programmes and has published a range of books. Being nominated in last year's Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards and voted Restaurateur of the Year in the 2006 Tatler restaurant awards is testament to his success. And in June 2005 the company successfully floated on AIM on the London Stock Market.
After spending three years as an accountant running an accounts department, and dealing with two acquisitions, Tonks' knowledge became very industry-specific. He told PQ: "My financial background definitely helped in being able to understand how the business works and to measure its financial progression. It certainly helped when it came to raising funds, especially dealing with public markets."
Tonks provided his own start-up capital and along the way he was supported by some key shareholders. "My biggest private investment came from Roy Morris, now the company's executive chairman, who had been entrepreneurial himself," he explains. "He backed me as an individual as much as the business. Since then, a private issue of loan stock and bank funding provided funds to grow and in 2005 we raised funds on the AIM (Alternative Investment Market) for expansion."
Asked what he thinks have been the best and worst parts of his journey to success, he says: "I still feel I am on that journey, but the best part is doing what I do every single day because I really enjoy it. The worst parts are the frustrations of growth and the inevitable challenges this puts up. My main challenge is to still feel that I am in touch with every single one of the restaurants and to be sure that they all deliver the experience that I had in my vision for our customers."
Tonks' advice to budding entrepreneurs is specific, and he warns against staking anything you aren't prepared to lose on your project. "I always start off from how I would like things to be and then work backwards from there, both in business and personally," he explains. "This includes my vision for the future, including how much money is needed and how much you would like to earn. I think it is limiting to work from the bottom of your plans upwards as you can be put off. But don't ever risk anything that you can't afford. I've done that and lost my home in an earlier venture and it's painful. Now I would risk everything except the things I really value. But you must go for it and never stop believing in your vision.
"When it comes to being entrepreneurial, as a part-qualified accountant the financial grounding you get can give you a good understanding of how to analyse and manage a business financially, but I also think you must be aware that it can be limiting. Most accountants I work with base every decision on financial information. But being an entrepreneur means making decisions based on that real gut feeling that will take you towards your vision; sometimes you just have to leap, the net will always appear."
Looking back on his career as an accountant, Tonks says he enjoyed working with figures and working in somebody else's business but feels he was only doing it for the money. He is full of encouragement for budding entrepreneurs, commenting that "when you truly follow something you've always wanted to do, your work doesn't become work and your life is just one continual enjoyable place, never without struggles or challenges, but you come to see these as just part of the course of successful living."
So what's next for Tonks? How does he see his future developing? Even though he is obviously aware that he has become a very successful businessman, he's not yet ready to rest on his laurels. "My first role must be to make FishWorks into a hugely popular and successful restaurant chain, somewhere people go to enjoy and learn about seafood and for it to be accessible to everybody up and down the country, so that we can enjoy the fabulous seafood around the British Isles. As for me, I shan't be thinking about what I am doing next until I have delivered this complete vision."