Being an entrepreneur is at the core of who I am. Before I even knew what the word "entrepreneur" meant, I was selling sweets at school and "fishing rights" to my parents' pond.
It was these pursuits that primed me to see the potential of the Internet back in 1998, when my best friend excitedly showed me his computer after school one day. Amazon was still in its infancy and online chatting was emerging, a technology that stunned me. How was it that my friend could speak to someone in Chicago all the way from the English countryside? Imagining the future of the Internet, I said to myself, “I’ve got to do something with this.”
Within a year, while still in high school, I launched SupaNames – a website hosting company that made creating a website more affordable for consumers and small businesses. I strongly felt that people should have access to low-cost websites, which can open the door to huge growth for individuals and businesses.
This idea seemingly resonated with many. In six years, SupaNames grew to 24,000 websites in the UK, won awards and fought off the competition with much deeper pockets – all without any investments or me obtaining a university education. I was given the opportunity to grow a business of my own and learn what it takes to be a small business owner, lessons that I still apply today as I help entrepreneurs manage their time with my current business, virtual assistant platform Time etc.
We had a great run and I sold SupaNames for £2.1 million ($4.31 million) in cash, leaving me with some free time to explore my next venture. I reflected on my last entrepreneurial project and thought about how many times I needed assistance but didn't have the budget (or desire) for an extra pair of hands. It occurred to me – there is a huge need for skilled part-time assistants that can be paid only when you need them. From this need, Time etc. was born.
Time etc. didn't have the same kind of quick success that SupaNames experienced. After a six-year uphill battle and £275,000 ($336,000) poured into Time etc., it seemed that we had emerged a few years too early. British business owners weren't easily persuaded by the concept of virtual assistants.
I was oftentimes left feeling discouraged by the slow growth, but learned from every "no" and piece of feedback received from peers, stakeholders and mentors alike. Those first years and initial sales were essential to building a strong foundation for Time etc., but I knew there were was still plenty of room to grow after hitting the $1M revenue ceiling. I had to flip everything I thought I knew upside down in order to hit our biggest growth spurt yet.
Taking a risk — and reaping the reward
In 2013, I returned to my technical roots and traditional business practices by slashing prices in half and ripping up client contracts. It was a bold move that was met with doubt from many, but that huge shakeup was exactly what my business needed.
Time etc.'s newfound success was almost immediate, as we went global in a matter of months. Now, we're hitting 275 percent year-over-year growth and have handled more than 1.3 million virtual assistant assignments.
I became an entrepreneur by paving my own way – searching for opportunities to make an extra buck, choosing to skip university because I had faith in my business, investing my life into these ventures and trusting my gut, even when few people agreed. That same disregard for the "safest" route is what finally pushed Time etc. to where we now stand. It can be challenging to go against the grain and abandon what someone else believes to be right, but risk is the name of the game.
So much of my personal success can be credited to the time I spent letting my creative brain run free, time when I wasn't bogged down by everyday responsibility. Not everyone gets this privilege, however. In fact, Time etc. research found that 93 percent of Americans spend 25 percent or less of their work day brainstorming creative ideas or new business leads.
My goal is to give other entrepreneurs the ability to pass responsibilities on to a trusted virtual assistant, so that they can have that crucial brainstorming time and experience their own business breakthrough, like I did with Time etc.
About the author: Barnaby Lashbrooke is the founder and CEO of Time etc., a platform that matches businesses with on-demand virtual assistants.
Edited for length and clarity by Nicole Taylor. Have a great entrepreneurial story to tell? Contact Nicole at firstname.lastname@example.org with your pitch.