Entrepreneurship Personal musings

Retiring at 36 … really?

I’ve been very fortunate that through a lot of hard work over the years, I’ve been able to have had many opportunities.

For my 13th Birthday (literally the day of my birthday) my older sister gave me her paper-round to start that day (the legal age I was able to start work).

Prior to that (before I even remember starting school), my ‘pocket money’ was only given to me when I’d properly tidied my bedroom, and cleaned a share of the bathroom.  So you could say that from an early age, I was given a strong work ethic.

At University I had a part time complimentary therapy clinic (and in addition to my full time Engineering degree, I was also a barman, student warden, and ran a few clubs and societies).

On leaving Uni I worked as a door-to-door salesman for a few months, had a challenging office job (in that it wasn’t challenging intellectually!) .. and then started setting up my first Limited Company in June 2000.

I’d already heard that in general, only one in five businesses succeed beyond the first few years, so I set up multiple variations of businesses, running them alongside each other, hoping that at least one would succeed longer term.

Then as some businesses didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, I’d phase them out and develop alternative ones.  And as new opportunities became available, I’d take them on too.

The longer term plan (from a comparatively early age), was to ‘retire’ at 35 years old (in 2012), with the equivalent of a million pound in the bank, so I wouldn’t have to ‘work’ again.  And then, I could move to NZ, and enjoy the incredible outdoor lifestyle whilst still young and fit enough to maximize my time there.

However, in December 2009, the opportunity became available to take on a luxury boutique hotel the following summer of 2010, on a minimum 3 year lease (taking me to the end of August 2013, so a year behind my planned schedule).  But it seemed too good an opportunity not to miss.

This hotel has been going pretty well (although not quite as well as I’d hoped, because of the naivety of many locals perpetuating historical myths about the hotel). And although I haven’t quite reached the million in the bank, through the acquisition of some property, share options, and savings, I’ll have enough to support myself for the coming years (i.e. enough to cover my living costs whilst living in my own property, with the option to ‘work’ if I want to buy something a little more expensive, as and when).

I can then focus on the dreams I want to, when I want to.

However, I’ve now had it confirmed that literally the day after my hotel lease expires (the final definitive date of my hotel lease), I begin the first actual race day of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race!

So how did I do it?

  • My typical working week is at least 100 hours plus (often more).
  • On average, I manage about a half day off every couple of weeks (and even then I’m still on call)
  • I don’t tend to sleep too much (i.e. 6.5 hours a night seem to work perfectly when I’m busy)
  • I work hard, I’m not afraid to turn my hands to doing whatever needs doing (whether that’s unblocking toilets, fixing websites, dealing with challenging customers, etc.)
  • I work ‘smart’ (although this has been a long and slow process, learning just what is smart working and what’s less effective).  – In the main part for me, it’s about employing the right staff / sub-contractors, to do whatever their job is well, so I can leave them to it without question or concern, with trust, (and provide them with all the training they might need to carry on learning as they go along).
  • I also try to rethink through virtually every process and system I’m involved with, to maximise its efficiency and performance.  Also helping ensure consistency for my businesses customers (whoever they are).
  • There are countless books on the subject, and too many apt quotes to describe what I do.  For each person though, you need to work out what works for you, and go with that.
  • As my sister once said “he had to work really hard to be consistently that lucky” ..  to me, that about sums it up.
Entrepreneurship Personal musings

How running out of coffee, made me attempt to sail around the world

Picture the scene if you will, the background can highlight how the little things can make the massive differences!..

I currently own/manage a small boutique hotel (along with a few other businesses) .. I’ve also been planning for years, to bring these all to a close soon when I ‘retire’ from regular work at the end of my current hotel contract.

Part of the hotel is that we offer a range of all 16 Nespresso coffees to our guests.  For whatever reason I forgot to add my own favourite variety to the most recent order.  The minimum order is 200 capsules (typically every few weeks), so it wasn’t worth doing another order just for the one extra coffee type (and being Nespresso, there are only a few places to actually buy it in person, ie near Harrods).

So last Sunday evening (13th April), we had a rare case of having an empty hotel, while I was on shift..  So I decided .. it was a nice day .. why not get the train into London to buy more coffee .. and then have a bit of a wander around whilst up there. (I do appreciate the rail fare was more than postage of the coffee order).

20 minutes later I was on the train, including a travel card to ensure I could make it to Harrods before they shut (a rare thing for me, I tend to prefer walking across the surface of London, as I’ve been doing for the past few years)..  And then on the underground system this woman catches my eye:


This image flashes me back 20 years, to a presentation of a friend of my C.O. (while I was in the ATC), from a lovely woman called Cherry (I think).

With no previous professional sailing experience, she skippered a yacht full of other amateur sailors, across the Atlantic (or so I can vaguely remember)..

Even without recalling too many of the finer details, it sounded like an incredible journey .. something to aspire to in years to come, but finding that place in the recesses of my mind along with the other countless thoughts and ideas I collate over the years.

So Monday morning, and after a great night’s sleep, I booted up the laptop and completed the online application.

The website showed the event starting in August 2013, and finishing the following June, so with my timing of the hotel, and my NZ BUNAC work exchange Visa expiring in mid March 2014, I applied for legs 3,4,5 of the 8 legs around the world.  This would take me out on the water from South Africa, to Western Australia, Eastern Australia, and finish in China, from October 2013 to February 2014 (seemingly nicely placed with my hotel lease contract finishing on the 31st August 2013).

Buy that same afternoon I had a call back from a guy called David, at ‘Clipper Ventures’ .. asking if I could I make it to an interview that Friday from 10am-2pm.  Normally this wouldn’t be a problem (I normally have staff working all day on Fridays at the hotel, but one staff member was on holiday for the mornings)..  I had three rooms in, but I should be able to get them paid up early, and head down after breakfast.

So Friday morning, I head down to Gosport, and see this lovely 70′ yacht in the Marina.

Clipper Yacht 2013/14
Clipper Yacht 2013/14

I watch and listen to a great presentation, apparently trying to put you off, but making those of us present to want it even more.

Then it’s mentioned.. the race starts the last weekend in August (not early August as I’d expected)..  I look again at the ‘Round the World’ map, taking in the incredible journey that may be available to me … if I can do three legs, why not do all eight? .. The ‘last weekend’ in August is Saturday 31st August, and Sunday the 1st September .. could they mean that one?

Yes, apparently the race actually begins on the 1st September, possibly from London.  The timing couldn’t be more perfect.

I have a great interview, my diverse range of experiences and skills seemed to be well matched to the challenge  (40,000 miles, with up to 50 strangers (around 20 at any time), in a confined space, on a race through all weathers to the finish, and massively hard work)..

So stuff the holiday after the hotel : I’m going on a boat race!

Business Entrepreneurship

The tipping point, how a £2.59 gift can lead to £3,520.00 of new business

One of the businesses I’m involved with is Hotel de Vie: a small boutique style hotel, of just 8 en-suite rooms.

Obviously I’ve taken countless steps to try and ensure we provide the best accommodation we can provide (and just last week, it finally took it’s rightful place as the number 1 guest accommodation in the Farnham area, according to the independent review website TripAdvisor.)

The hotel already provides various things for free, that many other hotels charge a premium for, ie a range of snacks, chocolates, fruits, fruit juices, yogurts, cheeses, biscuits, mineral waters, broadband WiFi, toiletries, freshly cooked breakfasts, etc.

I’m also very fortunate (after much selection and training) to have some really great staff who treat each guest as an individual (ie not just another room booking), they’re also always professional, and friendly at the same time, and of course great at their job.

We already have a good working relationship with a local taxi firm (they are our default choice of recommendations for all our guests).

We also have one of our regular guests (who’d stayed at virtually every other hotel in the area, before finding us, and now stays with us whenever she’s in the area), who also had a good relationship with this taxi firm prior to staying with us too.

This particular guest made a mention to me, during her last stay some months earlier, how she particularly enjoyed one of our organic teas.  So when re-ordering, I added an extra box of tea for her (costing me £2.59).

She came and stayed with us again in early September for a couple of days, and I’m sure that the ‘thoughtful gesture of her favourite tea’ (that she’s also not been able to find herself) encouraged her to share her happiness about the hotel, with the taxi driver again.

This same day, the same driver was picking up one of his other longer term international clients (who’s been visiting the area on and off for years).  That particular guest was complaining that morning about his current accommodation to the taxi firm, who I’m sure prompted by this conversation with our other regular guest, recommended my hotel…

A couple of phone calls later, and that guest was booked in to stay for nearly one and a half months, for over £3,500 of new business to the hotel!

There are countless fables and stories about ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’,  ‘the mouse and the giant turnip’, etc.  In the hotel’s case.. it was a box of tea!

The hotel has also just experienced it’s busiest month since taking over 13 months ago, and it’s busiest week yet (and there’s not even a major event going on in the area!)

Business Personal musings

My near death Car Accident – – 28th Feb 2006

The following blog post, is a copy of one made on the 1st March 2006 (the day immediately after), and then updated over the following week.  However, as I’m shortly moving the old website to a new location, it seemed appropriate to re-post here!  Do scroll down to the images at the base for a better view.

At the roadside - view 4

Don’t try and dodge the squirrel‘!

So there I was, on Tuesday the 28th Feb 2006, at around 10:30am, driving confidently along the inside lane of the A329M motorway just by junction 10 of the M4.

Holding a steady 70mph, aware of the other vehicles around me, and the road ahead looking clear, ready to exit in around half a mile.

Suddenly, out of the tree line, a small brown squirrel starts racing it’s way to new pastures, attempting to dash as fast as it little legs could carry it, across 2 lanes of fast moving traffic!

Correlating it’s speed, my speed, and the distance between us, there’s a very high chance we’ll collide and Sammy will certainly not do very well out of it. Unfortunately then instinct (possibly from being a strict vegetarian for more than 10 years), means that I then attempted to take evasive action.

A sharp swerve on the steering to the right to try and avoid Sammy, means that at these high speeds the car begins to loose it’s feet. A counter turn to the left helps a little but the car is already unavoidably about to loose traction.

Should I counter again and try to compensate by going right, setting up an uncontrollable rock and roll around the motorway? That could mean moving across the lanes, and also potentially into oncoming traffic from the other direction (as there’s no central barrier on that part of the motorway). And that could be dangerous.

So knowing I was loosing traction anyway, the safest direction was to continue holding my slight left lock, hopefully then sliding onto the hard shoulder in the safest manner, knowing also that the cars behind were also traveling quite slowly and the motorway was still relatively clear on this side.

Unfortunately, the car continued to yaw slightly to the left, then loosing traction completely with all four wheels skidding sideways, but thankfully with the vehicle still moving in the direction of the hard shoulder.

“This might cause a little damage to the car” I thought.

Unfortunately a tree to the side of the hard shoulder wasn’t so happy about the intrusion to its space, and attempted to hold its ground despite the rapid application of the driver’s door against it.

The car, not wishing to give up entirely, continued it’s motion against the tree, but with nowhere else to go tried to leap over the top (not very effectively), by rolling its way up the trunk.

Not wishing to make things too difficult, the tree finally gave in, embedding itself into the roof of the car, folding the roof in, right in front of Jason’s eyes just to make it clear of its displeasure about the intrusion.

I swerved and swerved to avoid a crash, but still hit the tree‘!

“It’s likely this might damage the car a little more than expected” I thought, as the horizon span around in front of my eyes.

The car came to a gentle halt, right way up, and somehow I was still there, sitting upright, hands still both comfortably on the steering wheel, engine still running, windscreen wipers for some reason oscillating, wondering slightly why I couldn’t really see all that well out of the front or side of the vehicle but figuring I should get out as quickly as possible.

Not being able to see if I was actually blocking the motorway, and hearing cars still flying past beside me, I felt a second vehicle could hit me at any time. I hadn’t realised at this point how much the car had been crushed around my seated position.

Thankfully, on kicking my way out of the driver’s door, three guys were already running towards me to help out (seemingly slightly surprised I was just about out by the time they got to me).

Then taking stock of my location, I was surprised and pleased to see that the car had quite nicely parked itself onto the embankment, wasn’t even on the hard shoulder. All the remnants from the car interior had even been scattered into the trees without anything obstructing the motorway at all!

Bystanders seemed somewhat surprised as I walked around freely, assisting me in retrieving various items strewn from the rear of the vehicle into the embankment.

As I was okay, and the car quite clearly no longer drivable, I wondered how long it would take for the AA to arrive. No-one was entirely sure what to do next. However, in the meantime, one of the drivers of another vehicle was already calling the police and ambulance to come and ‘rescue’ me.

Within minutes, the ambulance crew arrived and saw me smiling and waving signs of ‘I’m okay’ to them. They were however slightly puzzled as to where the driver of the vehicle was, and who else must still be trapped inside, judging from how badly the vehicle was crushed.

Taking me to the ambulance to attend to the slight cuts on the backs of my hands (from the broken glass imploding onto me), one of the paramedics returned to the vehicle, expressing that had I not been walking around on arrival as I was, they would have expected to need to cut the roof off the vehicle, and only carry me out on a spinal board!

One paramedic expressed that it was “the worst accident he’d ever seen, where someone had come out alive”. Unfortunately Sammy the squirrel wasn’t so lucky!


So after the event, I booked myself in for a Sports Massage on Wednesday morning, an Aromatherapy treatment Wednesday evening, an Osteopathy treatment to reset a couple of vertebrae on the Friday morning, and another massage on the following Monday! 🙂

The week continued relatively as normal (although a couple of days did seem to pass by, without being quite normally balanced!).

Thankfully, after a series X-rays, (apart from the car, the tree, and of course Sammy) nothing appears to be broken!

(I wrote this, because the ambulance guys, the crash transporter guys, and many others enjoyed the humour of ‘’ marked across the car, in the crushed form you see above!)

Business Environmental

Encouraging Recycling

Having recently taken over a hotel (accommodating for up to 16 guests 7 days per week), so far we’ve managed to reduce our landfill by at least 85%.  We still have further to go, which will be progressing over coming months, but it’s a pretty good start.

This was quite simply achieved by seperating our rubbish, and putting most of it to recycling.  (ie down from an 1100 litre dumpy bin, to the equivalent of around 2 dustbin bags a week of landfill: less than the average families landfill I see at the side of the road).

For example we now recycle:

  • all suitable paper and card
  • recyclable plastics (numbers 1-5), metals and tins
  • recyclable glass
  • tetra-pack cartons (lids seperated)
  • Tassimo disks from our various machines at the hotel (2p for each one recycled also goes to charity)
  • Nespresso capsules (recycled by Nespresso directly).

We also:

  • Reduced food wastage by cooking great food, to order (so there’s also less left by our guests)
  • Buy only fsc approved toilet and facial tissues (ie recycled, and/or sustainable)
  • Use energy saving bulbs throughout most of the hotel (both halogen, and tube style)
  • Turn off thermostats in our rooms when they’re not booked
  • Open windows to naturally air the place as much as possible (rather than just using chemicals)
  • fix leaking taps, etc

We’ve now found a suitable commercial recycle company, who can collect much our recyclable materials on a fortnightly basis.  Those items they can’t recycle directly, but we can, we still keep aside and recycle ourselves through other companies.

We also reduced the visits by the waste companies (fortnightly or less), to reduce the environmental impact of their travel to us in their large heavy vehicles.

It’s unfortunately, that in my experience, most businesses aren’t willing to take these steps to reduce their environmental impact.

I do appreciate there is still a lot more we can do ourselves (and already have plans to do so), and we’re trying to maintain the balance of luxury and quality with our environmental impact.

However, speaking to the guy changing over our dumpy bin recently (to one much smaller), he was also sharing how for the farm he also works on, they are still heavily discouraged by price.

For example, on his farm, plastic bags and wrapping (from feed, etc.) can either be recycled, or put in a skip for landfill.

  • If they put it in the skip, and it goes straight to a hole in the ground, they get charged around £200 a year.
  • If they collect the same volume for recycling, it’s around 3 times that price!

Not surprisingly, and unfortunately, for immediate cost reasons they therefore choose to put it all in landfill.


I also remember, back in 2001 when I used to work in a call centre in a town centre, virtually all the rubbish we ever disposed of was shredded office paper.  At that time, business landfill waste was free.  Recycling the premium paper however was quite a considerable cost in addition!


Until these basics change, I can’t see many other businesses taking steps to reduce their environmental impact.  I haven’t seen the figures, but I’m sure it will make a significant difference if more businesses are encouraged with their bottom line, to change.

It doesn’t take much once the changes are made, the biggest challenge seems to be in the change in work practices initially.  Trial it for a couple of weeks if you need to (even if you still keep sending it to landfill), and when it works, you can make it company policy on a constant basis!


New Business Venture – Hotel de Vie

I’m very pleased to announce that today, we’re able to ‘go public’ that from the 31st August 2010, both myself and my wife Jolene, will be leasing a luxurious boutique hotel in Farnham, Surrey, called ‘Hotel de Vie‘ (Hotel of Life).

This is a venture we’ve been in discussions regarding, for nearly 9 months now.  The training is nearly complete, papers have been signed, and we should all be good to go in less than 3 weeks.

How did we do it?

I was fortunate to be speaking with the owner prior to the massive renovation project of the previously run down property.  After sharing a few ideas with them, and keeping in contact over the past few years, at the end of a recent visit the owners mentioned they were looking to potentially expand the business (subject to finding a new suitable venue), so were keen to find a suitable couple to run the existing one.

Both myself and Jolene excitedly discussed the idea at length on the journey home, and gave them a call back as soon as we were home, offering ourselves for the purpose.

The rest as they say, is history.

We’ll be adding a few things to the hotel website over the coming months, but do feel free to check it out anytime on www.Hotel de