Back in 2000, whilst working at William Hill I came across the concept of OnlineBingo. I ended up with the idea of launching what would have been the UK’s first ever pay-to-play online bingo game.
The business was a total accident
To do this I went out, Dragons Den style, to try and raise angel investment funding. I failed abysmally. But as a support for my pitch, I had created a website that listed the then only US online bingo sites. Some of those sites began approaching me to ask if they could advertise on my website. And that became the business. A total accident. No investment. We ended up with what you could now call the ‘Trip Advisor for Online Bingo’.
We started at our kitchen table
We initially started with just myself and my wife working from home. That progressed to bringing in freelancers. Our first full-time staff arrived after five years, at the same time that we got our first office. At the time, a big scary step!
A big hairy audacious goal
The business grew initially because the sector we were in was in a growth phase. However, we built on that sector growth with what we felt was a strong USP, a key positioning within the sector, high standards and a big hairy audacious goal (BHAG) that kept us focussed on where we were trying to get.
Playing cat and mouse with Google
Because we had no funding, we kept budgets very tight, and the only way we drove traffic in the early days was through SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). As SEO developed over the years, so did our strategy, playing a ‘cat & mouse’ game with Google; sometimes winning, sometimes losing. We eventually ended up with an in-house team of SEO experts. As the brand developed we used a range of offline and online marketing tools.
Our proudest moments
Over the 18 years of the business, we won 10 different industry awards. To get that sort of peer recognition was brilliant. I was also very proud of our own awards – we became the ‘must have’ award within our sector, so much so that we ended up with over 100 guests one year when we hosted the event at Mme Tussauds in London. Our TV ad (the first in our sector to do so) and our industry reports were also both points of great pride.
An offer too good to refuse
Eventually, we decided to sell because we were approached by one of the big consolidators in the industry and they made us a very good offer! The business wasn’t up for sale at that time and had we not been given an offer too good to refuse we would have simply carried on.
There were many, many lessons learnt along the way….. I think, as a business owner, the importance of delegation was one of the key ones. You can only get so far on your own. Being able to ‘read the numbers’ is also important. We all now have access to lots of information on our businesses, but the ability to look at the data, work out what it’s are telling us and, most importantly, deciding what to do next on the back of it, is a vital skill.
One of the key lessons I picked up later in my career was the importance of regularly tracking numerical KPIs. Because we didn’t have investors, I had no-one to answer to, so as long as we were generally heading in the right direction, everything was OK. Getting more specific on numbers was something we needed to do.
And throughout the time, the importance of a consistent target, our BHAG, which meant were focused. Looking back now, the benefit of outside help, particularly at key times, those times when you take the big next step, was vital.
My advice for new business owners would be ‘go for it’. Follow your gut instinct. Yes do the market research, stress test your assumptions, but when push comes to shove, do what you ‘sense’ is right. Trust your instinct. I’d also say that you should minimise risk as much as you can, but not too much. Keep it at a ‘controlled risk’. You should always keep ‘nimble’ as it allows you to change and react to situations as they present themselves, although that’s not to say fall for every new shiny object that you see…. and you’ll see many!
Life after Which Bingo
After I sold my business, I found business owners that I knew were coming to me for advice and guidance. They seemed to get great benefit from that, and I enjoyed it, so I sat down during the first lockdown and put together a plan to offer this as a professional service.
I’m now using all my years of business experience to help other business owners. I call myself a ‘Business Sounding Board’ (think somewhere between Business Coach and Business Mentor with a bit of personal NED (non-executive director thrown in).
The cliché says ‘it’s lonely at the top’ and it is. It is often the case that, as a Business Owner, you are expected to have all the answers. But often you don’t. And this tends to come up when businesses reach that point where they have to take ‘the next step’, whatever that be. Business owners often just need someone to listen to their issues (and often a spare pairs of eyes to look at their business). I offer that service to business owners, who are looking to grow and develop. My clients want to talk about things like ‘Where do I go next?’ ‘Does this idea sound stupid?’ ‘I don’t know how to take the next step (whatever that next step might be).
I’ve been there done that and got the battle scars to prove it and I can help them.
Find out more about Phil at philfraser.co.uk
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