Andrew: Three messages before we get started. If you’re a tech entrepreneur, don’t you have unique legal needs that the average lawyer can’t help you with? That’s why you need Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law. If you read his articles on Venture Beat, you know that he can help you with issues like, raising money, or issuing stock options, or even deciding whether to form a corporation. Scott Edward Walker is the Entrepreneur’s Lawyer. See him at Walkercorporatelaw.com.
Do you remember when I interviewed Sarah Sutton Fell about how thousands of people paid for her job site? Look at the biggest point that she made. She said that she has a phone number on every page of her site because, and here’s a stat, 95% of the people who call, end up buying.
Most people though don’t call her, but seeing a real number increases their confidence in her and they buy. So try this, go to Grasshopper.com and get a phone number that will make your company sound professional. Add it to your site and see what happens. Grasshopper.com.
Remember Patrick Buckley who I interviewed? He came up with an idea for an iPad case. He built a store to sell it and in a few months he generated about a million dollars in sales. Well the platform he used is Shopify. If you have an idea to sell anything, set up your store on Shopify.com because Shopify stores are designed to increase sales. Plus, Shopify makes it easy to set up a beautiful store and manage it. Shopify.com, here’s your program.
Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner, and I am the founder of Mixergy, home of the ambitious upstart. Today’s guest came up with an innovative business idea, but you won’t believe how much revenue this company is generating. David Green Brown is the founder of Travel Parking Group.
It lets you, well, it’s got two parts of the business. One part lets you compare prices and amenities at airport parking options in the UK. You can find the one that’s got the lowest price, or the best amenities, etc. and book it right on his site. The other part of Dave’s business is, they’ll send chauffeur’s out to meet you when you arrive at the airport. The chauffeur will take your car, go park it in a safe parking lot and then when you arrive back when you return from your trip, the chauffeur will come with your car, drop it off, and let you take your car and drive off. Dave, great business idea, and welcome to Mixergy.
Andrew: Yeah, we, we had trouble with your computer, so now we’re on Iphone, which the audience recommended that I try if we ever had issues with computers. So, thanks for grabbing it and doing this interview that way.
Dave: Let’s give it a whirl then.
Andrew: How much revenue is Travel Parking Group generating right now?
Dave: We’re going to do $10 million [??] this year with Raccoon, give or take. Obviously, it’s not quite the end of the year yet. But, [??]. There’s not a lot of profit in that. I have to add very quickly.
Andrew: What kind of profits do you guys see?
Dave: That’s a trade secret at the moment. We can’t [??]
Andrew: Why are the margins so thin? Why is it that there is 10 million quid which basically is 10 million British pounds? Why don’t you get to keep a lot of that?
Dave: Well, it’s obviously one side of the business. We only earn a commission. We’re holding a lot of cash for our suppliers, and obviously we’re looking for packing side of things. We sell the packing on behalf of the care packs. We keep that cash and we give it to them. We’re the agent, so we only earn a commission on it, it’s very much a volume driven business. We only earn a commission on each order. And then we give a portion of it, the much greater portion of it to the company that actually parks the cars. On the stress free side of things, which is the operation of the company, the chauffeur company, it’s reversed. That’s much lower volume on that side of the business.
Andrew: I see, lower volume, but the chauffeur part of the business, you guys own. You don’t have to split the revenue with anyone else. You just need to make sure that there’s a chauffeur there, ready to take a car when people arrive.
Dave: It’s reversive, we obviously have to pay a commission to an agent, then for them to supply us the orders. One of the businesses is an agent [??] business, and that’s the model really. That’s an interesting one because everybody in the industry is selling for everybody else, which is fantastic. Which means, I’ve not worked in that many different industries, but it seems like the ones I have worked in, I’ve never seen that before. Everyone’s sort of, everyone’s got deals with anybody else, but she is really good.
Andrew: The idea came to you when you and your co-founder, Martin Mansell, sat down. Well, you tell me, what was the process that you guys went through that helped you come up with this idea?
Dave: I would love to say that we had a brain wave and we searched the Internet and came up with a fantastic, unique idea. But, the reality is that was trial and error really. I’ve been trying to come up with a sort of Internet business for most of my career really. My background is in making websites. I’ve been making them since 1995. I’ve worked for lots of agents, but I’ve never really enjoyed the client work. I’ve always wanted to do it my own way. I’ve tried set up a number of Internet companies on my own successfully. This opportunity came along through Martin, really. It was his concept. We talked about a number of concepts to work on together, but I could always produce the websites and he’s got the commercial. Now we know how that side of the partnership works. So, we discussed it and thought “well, actually this one’s working here. We can see that this company is doing it well.”
Andrew: You mean you saw a competitor who was doing it well and said “hey, if it’s working for them, we can do it, too?”
Dave: Yeah, I think so. That’s pretty much how I remember the discussion. You can’t remember every conversation you have. As I remember, that’s pretty much how it came about really. We thought, “Well, actually, that is something that could pretty well, if we could do it well”. So, it’s not a unique idea. There are lots of people doing it. Anywhere in the U. S., there is a lot of people doing it as well.
Andrew: So, if there are so many people who are doing it, and I didn’t recognize how many people were doing it, but if there are so many how do you compete? What do you guys do that is so different?
Dave: Well, it’s a conversation that we have all the time. It comes down to two things really. Your first ?? commercial now are in terms upon the deals and plus with the car parts. Make sure to identify the right car parts, to make sure to identify the right car parts that you’re going to sell. You’re looking to provide a good service level and that we have the contracts in place for them. Again its not ?. Against any losses that we might have. And secondly, it’s a website. It’s making a website that converts.
Andrew: So, you’re making a website that converts, having some contracts, and we’re going to get more of the details as we here your story. Including, the shocking thing that happened with your wife, but I want to get a little bit into the story and maybe build some rapport with you before we get into it because it’s tough to just launch into a conversation about what happened with your wife. But first, this business, one of your first business. I’m OK to talk about that, right?
Dave: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s not really that shocking though.
Andrew: It’s shocking when I read it. Plus, I’ve got to promote the interview. We need people to keep listening. Even though we’re talking on an iPhone here, we want people to stick around.
Dave: Obviously, people will consider to be shocking. I don’t consider it to be too shocking, but let’s see.
Andrew: All right, we’ll find out what people say in the comments. Tell us guys. Starting off though, you said that you’re a guy that has been trying to build a successful Internet company for years. The first one that you were involved with, was it NewsPlayer.com?
Dave: Yeah, well that’s right. Actually, that’s the company I worked for when I was sort of cutting my teeth really, I was developing. They were, in the UK, one of the original dotcom companies that went and got a lot of funding from ? capitalist back in the late 90s.
Andrew: How much is a lot of funding that they got? Do you remember?
Dave: It was twelve million ? at the time.
Dave: So, it was a fair amount of money to get.
Andrew: And what was their business deal? What were they doing?
Dave: It was video Internet streaming. So distribution of video of the web. It was through ITN, and they’ve got a license to distribute all ITN’s news content online. It was twenty a license. We basically bought a shedload of high powered digitized action computers and digitized all of it. We never got through it all because the business model was failing by the time we’ve done a lot of it.
Andrew: And it failed because it was way ahead of its time. Online video just wasn’t really present back when the Internet was on dial-up, right?
Dave: No, it wasn’t. We all don’t remember. Those of us that do remember, it wasn’t really a great experience. It wasn’t into video initially onto the Internet. It was only ? that brought video to the ? of sort of them.
Andrew: And that company pivoted into something else. What did they switch to doing?
Dave: Well, it wasn’t so much that. The company now is completely different and I’ve still got an interest in it actually. Do you know when you go to a betting shop?
Andrew: I’ve never been to a betting shop.
Dave: You’ve got all the TVs above?
Dave: That’s what they make. It turned into the streaming of all the race stuff. Not sure that they supply it in the U. S., but they own a large percentage of the company that does all that stuff in the UK and that’s what it turned in to which was fantastic for very [xx] opportunities. Really, from their perspective, when they saw that it was failing, they just switched models. I have to say, they blew a lot of money to start with because they spent a lot on trying to make something work that didn’t ultimately work. They managed to pull it out of the fire, so to speak.
Andrew: Well, they’re still alive. That’s impressive considering when they launched and what they launched with. So soon after you left there, you started your own digital agency?
Dave: That’s right.
Andrew: What were you doing?
Dave: Just your bog standard portfolio websites for Joe Bloggs is a carpet factory or Jimmy Jones is a mechanic shop.
Andrew: You’re doing websites for these mechanic shops and factories?
Dave: That’s right. ten page portfolio websites that you see so often. Everybody needs a website now a days, don’t they? We were one of these small time web development agencies that made these websites for people. Occasionally we got sort of a decent side job to do, you know a 30, 40 or 50 pager that might be a ten grand job but we made so many of them, we must have made 200 to 300 of those websites over the course of the years [xx].
Andrew: What’s a typical price for a website that you guys build?
Dave: You’re looking about a grand really.
Andrew: What did you hate about it? You didn’t love that job.
Dave: I say that. I regret saying that immediately to be honest. I didn’t hate it. I mean I love [purchase]. I love working. I love making websites on the Internet. So I did enjoy it but I was never felt as though the websites that I’d been making for the agencies I’d worked for were far better than the ones I was making, far more functional and I could do far more than the ones that I was making.
Andrew: I see. It wasn’t that you hated it, you just felt under-challenged by it.
Dave: A bit yes. It was quite easy to do and they were so templated. There were six of us, who did it, but one of the lads I did it with, Dan, he’s now a shareholder in the [Cho Packing], a managing shareholder. He used to do the designs. We talk back about it all the time. He did all the designs and he would just churn them out, the templates. The problem we had with it was, we tried to build a model on a custom CMS that I developed myself and I brought with me through the years. We tried to develop a model on that same content management system. I regret doing that now; we should have never done that. If I was going to start a digital agency again, I’d never go down that route where I would try to develop my own software. However, the system that the Packing Room’s on is basically the later versions of that same software that we built the CMS. So if I hadn’t have spent all that time on the CMS system that never worked, that cost us so much time and money that we spent so long working on constantly to put these portfolio websites on, we would have never have had the system that we have now.
Andrew: You didn’t build on WordPress, you built on your own content management system, and you’re saying, yeah, that had its downside which meant that there wasn’t a big enough audience for this content management system when you were competing with newer systems that were more open?
Andrew: The upside was, when it was time for you to build your new company, you were building on your own platform that was built just the way you wanted and that you had a ton of experience in?
Dave: Exactly. I always knew that it could do more than me. I knew the foundations to it were extensive. I always knew that it could do more than just make websites and was always looking for the angle to exploit it really. And this is where we tried to sell.
Andrew: Tell me about some of these businesses. So throughout, while you were running this digital agency, you’re thinking, “I could come up with my own product. I can come up with a business that will stand alone where we’re not doing client work.” What are some of the products that you tried launching that you actually built?
Dave: Well, we tried to do the same thing twice called Sloga. And then we tried to do it called Ones. Then, we tried to put which was two [inaudible] programs that we saw in our naivete of what it takes to develop a platform before we could do what we thought could be the next WordPress. What we felt could be the next SciInfiniti and something like that. And, obviously when learn about business and you learn more about what’s actually involved in those companies, then you realize you start fighting a losing battle to a certain degree and you need to find an angle. So, that way, I found an angle. We tried to set up. What we used to do is we used to take interests. We used to build websites for people and if it was a good idea, we used to dump [inaudible], take a share in the company, right? And, that caused a lot of problems, financially. But allowed it allow us to build these businesses that didn’t contribute to them, build relationships with the founders of those companies and try to find sort of, try to find, not try to do it really, but try to make it as it were but in [inaudible] but one of them was a company called Finder Monkey. And they are actually still going now and they’re a people finder agency and there we.
Andrew: It’s a people finding agency. This is basically a headhunting firm called Find The Monkey.
Dave: No, it’s not. Yeah, that’s right. It’s Finder, Finder Monkey. So, it’s F-I-N-D-E-R, it’s not people finder agency. It’s a data [inaudible]. So, if you’re, if you’ve got a long lost brother, need of him.
Andrew: Oh, finder. Finder Monkey.
Dave: Yeah. Finder Monkey.
Andrew: So, they’re the finders. They’re the monkeys. We’re going to find your data.
Dave: That’s right.
Andrew: Gotcha. I see. OK. So, you still do work for them. Why do you still do work for them? You guys are turning over ten million quid a year.
Dave: Well, we committed. We commit. Well, it’s a question that we are working through with them now because we’re trying to service their requirements still and I’ve got shares. I’ve got interest in the company but we’re not really able to do it because the big focus has got to be on the packing. I just watched one of the greatest interviews and you. It was a question you actually asked yourself. It’s how to say no sometimes, isn’t it? You get stuck in it. You get. You know you make commitments to people and that business is only [inaudible] and they are running on your archive abilities and you can’t just tear that away from them. You don’t want to because you’ve invested in a lot of time in it yourself. It’s very difficult. But I mean, and it could have taken off like that Packing has done. That could have been the one that took off and may still do. They guys there at Determine labs but it’s not quite done it for them yet. But it’s a great concept.
Andrew: Got it. I see here locate ex-tenants, we find them discretely. They just find stuff for you.
Dave: That’s right. They find people for you.
Andrew: That makes sense.
Dave: And then another one, it’s a great business that I don’t know how scalable it is to other countries because we’ve got, in the UK, there’s all sorts of tracing database that you can tap into and license and use. So, that’s what the model is. But I don’t know how scalable it is abroad. There are several other ones and we set up a company called Whisker which was going to be the Facebook of star signs.
Andrew: The Facebook of staff what?
Dave: Star signs.
Andrew: Staff signs?
Dave: Star sign, you know, everyone’s got a star sign whether you’re a [inaudible] or a Sagittarius or a.
Andrew: Oh, I see. Of star signs. So, I see. If I’m Sagittarius, I might connect with other people who are Sagittarius’. Same as the way that if I was in Harvard a few years, I might want to connect with other Harvard students and Facebook facilitated that. So, let me ask you something. You’re a guy who listens to Mixergy interviews. You hear about people who build successful companies and here you are trying really hard and it’s not popping. Things are going OK. You’re making a living but it’s not popping. How do you feel about yourself at that point? I know how I feel about myself when that happens. What about you?
Dave: Yeah, well, it’s not great. Is it?
Andrew: Do you start to question yourself? Do you start to say, “What’s wrong with me because all of these guys seem to have it so easy?”
Dave: Yeah. You’d have to be doing your own company for really long to realize that these guys don’t have it easy. Anyone who tries to do it and has got it easy must just be very talented, they’ve got a lot of [care], or they’ve got a lot of friends in the right places. I think those three things, the vast majority of us don’t have that. We have to work very hard to achieve it. I think you do look at yourself and think, “God, I should just get a job.”
Andrew: Why didn’t you? You’re a smart guy. You could have gotten paid much better than you were for years. There were many years as an entrepreneur that you would have gotten paid better if you were at a job somewhere. Why didn’t you take a job? Why did you stick with this?
Dave: Stubbornness. Just refusal to accept defeat. You invest so much of yourself into these products, don’t you? It’s just a stubborn refusal to accept defeat really. I’ve got that and Martin’s got that. That’s why. It’s as simple as that really.
Andrew: How did you and Martin connect?
Dave: He was a client of the ex-digital agency. We’d worked together for some time really.
Andrew: Why did you two sit down and start thinking of new business ideas? How did that happen?
Dave: Martin, he’s got a lot commercial expertise, a lot of commercial experience. We just got talking. I talked to him about some of the business ideas I’d had and hadn’t worked and what was working at the time. One of the things I’ve not said so far that would probably just fit in quite well here is that one of the reasons that we didn’t work out a lot of this stuff is because I’ve got no financial acumen. I’ve known all my life really that I haven’t got that. It dawned on me quite early in the whole business development process, trying all these ideas out, that I was making a mess of the finances and I couldn’t put the deals in place. I was a pushover commercially. I knew I needed to find someone who could. Finance guy sounds like an accountant. I don’t mean that. I mean somebody who could put the contracts in place. Someone who can put the deals in place basically. That’s what we call him in the company now. Martin, he’s the deal maker. He’s the guy who can go and build relationships and come up with deals that work for both parties and make money for both sides.
Andrew: You told Jeremy who already interviewed you that you’re such a pushover financially, that you’ll sometimes go out and spend too much money, even if you don’t have it. You’ll put dinner on a credit card.
Dave: Yeah. I’ve run up some right debts, definitely.
Andrew: Here’s why I do it. If I’m going to keep asking you to be open, I’ll tell you why I always seem to pay for everything. I think there are times when I feel bad about having other people pay and then there are other times where, and I hate that I get to this place, but I big time it. I’m like, “Oh, I’m a big shot. I’ve got to be paying. Give me the best bottle of drink that you have here. Put it on the table for everyone. Let’s get every single dessert off the menu.” Do you feel that way, too? Is that where that comes from?
Dave: There’s a little bit of that now I suppose, but now we can to it to a certain degree. We don’t have masses of cash, but we’ve got enough to treat everyone to a meal out every so often. I’ve quite enjoyed that, but before, I knew for a fact that we didn’t have it.
Andrew: Why did you spend?
Dave: That’s just my mentality. I just think sod it, I’ve worked hard all week and I’m going to get smashed this weekend or I’m going to go out to football or I’m going to go on a weekend away with Katie or I’m going to go take a train journey to Dalen for the weekend or someplace. I just think sod it really, that’s just my attitude towards life.
Andrew: I see. Correct me if I’m wrong. Here’s what I’m understanding. We’ve all done this. We feel like, “I’ve just worked from 6 in the morning until 2 in the morning, got just a handful of hours this whole frickin week, I’ve earned a nice trip to somewhere for the weekend. I’ve earned a good drink with my friends without having to think about money.” That kind of thing.
Dave: A little bit. When you go out there and you own your own company, you quite often have to work through the night to get that stuff done. I can remember 10 times that I’ve done it. I’ve literally not gone to sleep the night before I’ve gone to holiday. Then, literally, you finish work and after that you get in your car and go on a trip. You don’t want to do it, but you’ve just got to get the stuff done. You’ve got to set everything off that you want to do while you’re away. You don’t want to be pestered while you’re away. So, you try and make sure you get as much done as possible before you go away, so you don’t get pestered. Then you still get bloody pestered.
Andrew: That’s the worst. Yes, you’re right. The night before a trip you’re up all night working. You get all your inbox cleared, you get everything done, so that you can have the weekend away and not be distracted, and someone will complain a few hours later, “Why didn’t you respond to my email fast enough?”
Dave:[SS]…or you know, or what you know, exactly.
Andrew: All right, I’m going too slowly with this story. You and Martin hook up. You have these brainstorming sessions thinking, “Where’s a good business idea?” Trying different ones, you hit on this idea of basically a search engine for parking spots. People come in and search for a parking spot near the airport that they’re going to. They get to see lots of options. When they pick an option to book it, you guys earn a commission for sending a lead to the parking lot. That’s the basic idea.
Andrew: Now that you have it, what’s the first thing you do to get this idea off the ground?
Dave: Well, you’ve got to get your website open, first and foremost. God, we tried so many things. Anyone who’d done software development knows there’s these iterations you need to go through. We definitely did two clean builds of the website from scratch. It was the third one that took. It must have taken us seven or eight months to get a website that was going to actually convert art is the first two versions. So many iterations of those versions, we just couldn’t get it to work. We could get traffic. Well, we bought traffic. Matt put some of his own money in to it. We just couldn’t get it to convert.
Andrew: Could you get the website launched easily since you’re a guy who has build so many websites?
Dave: Yes, because of the concept management system that we had in house it was relatively easy to put that live. An e-commerce site is obviously quite a complex part of web development. I’ve done e-commerce since e- commerce existed online, so that was a really simple drill. Something I could do very easily.
Andrew: Essentially, what did the website do in the beginning? I know it has more to it today, but the day you launched, what was it capable of? What were the features?
Dave: You know what? There’s not much difference between what it can do now. What it does now it does very, very well. Before, you put your dates in, you search, choose your product, you pay for it. That’s it.
Andrew: That’s it. I would put in my dates, and I would say I need a car at Heathrow on this date to that date when I return. You see a list of options, you click one to book it, whip out your credit card, you essentially pay, you get your receipt, and you’re good to go. You’re saying that’s what it is today, that’s what it was back then, but back then it broke a lot.
Dave: We had a lot of problems with, shall we say, misplaced launches.
Andrew: What do you mean by “misplaced launch”?
Dave: Just one that went wrong.
Andrew: I put in all my information, I book it, I go to the airport, and they go, “We don’t have your spot here.” I don’t know who these Travel Parking Group people are, but we didn’t do anything with them.
Dave: That’s not necessarily one of the bigger problems we had. It’s more, sort of, making chips off this continuous iteration process. It’s what we add breaking something that previously worked, or the search not working properly, or the payment not being secure. You’ve got your own website. You know the plethora of things that can go wrong with a website. Pretty much anything can go wrong with it. The slightest little thing can bring your search capital down, or it can bring your page down, or the CSS quite easily be knocked over to one side, or the colors can be out. There are a million things that can go wrong. The payment’s not working. We had that a lot of times. When we finally got traffic working on the website, got it converted, then all of a sudden you come back after a week. You leave at 5:00 for once in your life and come back at morning and realize it’s been offline all night. The payment system’s been offline. Then you start bringing in stuff that’s outside of your control. All these different web services online, any one of them can go down at any time, can’t they? You’ve got to try to mitigate against that. There are a million things that can go wrong with it, and pretty much everything went wrong at one point in time. It still does sometimes. We’ve built systems and structures, balances in place now, checks. Stuff doesn’t go wrong very often now. At the start, it went all the time. The biggest problem was getting it to convert, cost per conversion in terms of marketing cost.
Andrew: I see.
Dave: The way that we made money. That was the [??] question. That’s what the biggest problem was, not so much getting it to work. It was getting it to pay.
Andrew: Technical problems, like getting the shopping process to work, you can solve those. Keeping the website up, you can solve it. Not anyone can solve getting traffic at the right price, converting it at the right percentage point so that you can make more money on an order than you paid to get that order through the door.
You told Jeremy, too, that it took three versions and eight months to get your first order?
Dave: Yeah. Actually, I think it was slightly less than that to get the first order. We lost the first one in January 2010 and then retook the first order in June, so six months later, but then he hardly took any orders, only took a trickle of orders between June and August. Then we had a weekend in August when we took over 100 orders in a day and we thought, we’ve got this working. At last it’s working.
By that time I’m surprised we had even carried on with it. We had many arguments about it not working, the money that Martin had put in, the advertising money that we’d spent and that hadn’t worked. Most of the traffic we were driving for the pay-per-click companies that would imply to try to solve the problem first, we just hadn’t done it. It was Martin in the end that did the successful pay-per-click campaign. He managed to make it pay.
Andrew: You went to pay-per-click companies and you said what, and then what did they do?
Dave: They said, “Send this traffic to our website.”
Andrew: At a certain price.
Dave: Well, yeah. It wasn’t so much that we set it at a certain price. We gave them a budget to spend. Thinking back, we probably wouldn’t do it that way now.
Andrew: I see. So Martin, you might have gone to a pay-per-click company– I’m looking at my notes here–and said, here’s 7,000 pounds. We want to try you out. Send us some traffic. Get it to us in a way that converts. You didn’t say how much you wanted of pay per click. You just said get us the traffic, you’ve got the traffic. It wouldn’t convert. You go, ugh, what’s wrong with us? Meanwhile, it was a problem with the pay-per-click company. They weren’t sending you what you needed.
Dave: Yeah. That’s right. We also bought [??] advertisement on holiday websites. We thought it was a good target market. They’d send us traffic, but that didn’t convert. We got the odd conversion [sweep], so we would buy space on other people’s websites, not through Google. Some of it would show Google, but some of it was [??] banner space on other people’s websites that sent traffic.
Andrew: And that didn’t work.
Dave: We got a few orders but only a trickle. The cost per order was 1,000 quid or something.
Andrew: So why didn’t you give up at that point? Here you are, a guy who’s not afraid of trying new products. Why didn’t you say, hey, you know what Martin, I’ve tried lots of different products in the past. When they don’t hit, they’re just not going to hit. We’ve been working on this for a good 7- 8 months here, three different versions. We gave it our all, but there’s enough competition in this space. Pay per click is too hard. I think we need to think of another idea. Let’s quietly shut this down. Let’s you and I go out, have a beer, and brainstorm a new idea. Why didn’t you take that kind of direction, which would have made sense?
Dave: As I recall, I wanted to do that.
Andrew: You did?
Dave: I think so, yeah. By that time I’d put that much time and effort into these auxiliary projects, as it were, and none of them had worked. I think I’d done six years at that point. Digital [??] was faltering because I’d put all my time into setting these projects up rather than doing the kind of work which paid the bills. It was Martin really that had that initial drive to continue. He wouldn’t accept that it wasn’t going to convert. He made it convert.
He was constantly saying, you’ve got to improve this part of the site, you’ve got to improve this part of the site. We continually [??] the site. We continually improved the design of the site. We got [??] designers involved. We got [??] involved. As I said, he wasn’t involved in the original designs even though we worked with him on a day-to-day basis. And he’s the guy now who’s doing all the designs, still, for this product, full- time with the company, and he’s a very key member of the team. Got him involved to do a much better design for the site, and just kind of, you know, just carried on, really . . .
Andrew: Let me see if I understand this. You’re saying, yeah, there’s some, you carry on because there’s some inertia to any project, that it’s harder to stop than it is to continue. But also, Martin kept you going by encouraging you, because he believed that there was some way to make this conversion work. He then sits down and says, “I’m going to buy ads for us on a pay-per-click basis. We don’t need an agency. I’m going to make the deals. I’ll get it.” He buys the traffic, and then he comes back to you and says, “You know what, buddy, I don’t think we’re converting well because there’s this obstacle. Please get rid of it.”
What are some of those obstacles in the funnel, some of those areas that you needed to smooth out? Do you remember one of the early ones?
Dave: Yeah. I mean, it’s just a process, isn’t it, that the user’s got, and the confidence side of things. And he had a background, a very commercial background, that relied on consumer confidence. So, I mean, he was very big on that. And just certainly the (?) trust side of things. Not as bad as he comments it’s been, well, in terms of the things — the thing is, my (?) experience, I’d never made a site that took the level of cash that we were looking to take. It was all very small-time stuff, very niche purchases that people were going to purchase anyway for some of these small-time companies. I mean, you know, like I said, you guys on your High Street, you know, just your sort of, the companies that maybe are only doing $50,000, $60,000 turnover a year. Just your one-man bands.
But Martin had experience in much bigger operations, so he was able to really guide that side of things. And I was . . .
Andrew: Can you give me an example of something that he said, “Hey, this is what you need to do? You’re not as experienced as I am. I’m buying the ads, and I can sense that we need to do something.”
Andrew: I want to get an understanding of what he contributed here.
Dave: Yeah, there’s a lot — well, the information. Well, in fact, the best one is the products. He went and got all the product deals, and ultimately we’re a comparison website for (?) packing products. So the more products that we add on there, and we made our logo and asked that our mission, to start with, we’ll find you the best deal. So the more and more products we got on there, the more and more — which he did all the deals for — the more and more we were sort of forced to improve the product layout and the user interaction with the product pages, after he’d done research, and then obviously becomes more of a website that people actually want to use and interact with and buy the actual products on, ultimately.
And that, I think, gradually, you know, we got such an array of information on there. It became a website that people prepared to place orders on.
Andrew: Oh, OK. So, you get more offers . . .
Dave: There’s a (?) . . .
Andrew: If I go and do a search for “parking near Heathrow,” and all I see is one parking lot, I go, “Ah, these guys are basically shills for this lot.” But if I see a ton of them, I think, “Oh, this is the place for me to really compare them all and get the cheapest one that has the best amenities.”
Andrew: It gives me more confidence.
Dave: Or not so much even the cheapest one. I mean, we sell a lot of premium products as well. It’s the best for they want. And so, some people are after cheap, some people are after quality. So it’s the range.
Andrew: OK. So, he gets more. What else does he suggest that you do on the site that’s different, because of his experience and his buying?
Dave: Yeah, well, I mean, it’s — I suppose at that point, when we started taking orders, it becomes a collaborative effort, then, between everyone involved.
Dave: And all of a sudden we were taking orders. And we both had full-time jobs, me and Martin, at that point in time. All of a sudden we were taking orders, and we were like, “Oh God, [laughs] what are we going to do?” Because with orders come customer service queries, don’t they?
Dave: People wanting to open a query about products. People wanting to find, you know, make amendments to their orders. People wanting to complain about the service levels that they sometimes get. You know? And we have some absolutely — we have some nightmare stories about the actual — some of the products that — I mean, I’ve said that we’ve got, a lot of different products are moving, and the products we’ve got now are very good, but some of the guys we had on initially, some of the car parks we were selling originally. Now . . .
Andrew: Oh, tell the audience about — six weeks in, you guys worked with a rogue car parker, and do you remember what happened? Do you know the one I’m talking about?
Dave: Oh, Gary Crennely [SP]. Yeah, I remember it well. Yeah. He was a — well, we were taking at — everyone knows the air parks Gatwick and Heathrow, right? They’re the two biggest ones in the UK We’re taking loads of orders at Gatwick, and we thought, “Well, we should be taking as many at Heathrow, so we took a car park on at Heathrow and it was fine. The [xx] is there and in fact, it was after this that we realized we’ve got to go full time. Martin got the phone call on a weekend from a customer saying, “My car’s not being returned, what’s going on?” and then we started to get more phone calls from customers saying that their cars weren’t being returned.
Andrew: People who parked their car with you said, “My car isn’t being returned” and they never got it back.
Dave: That’s right. That was the problem.
Andrew: This is the chauffeur service where someone comes to the airport?
Dave: No, this is the booking agent one. We placed a booking on behalf of another car park. So they’re ringing us because we’re their only contact point other than that car park. I went, “Fair enough.” That’s one of the services that we provide, the communication between customer and car park. That’s one of the reasons people use our service, why they use our website. So the police got involved at this point because a lot of people effectively had their cars nicked. They had their cars stolen.
Andrew: Essentially stolen, right. They park it somewhere and they come back and there’s no car.
Dave: That’s right.
Andrew: Because this guy does what?
Dave: It turned out that he’d been arrested for indecent exposure and when he was meant to be returning these cars, he was actually in prison, so he couldn’t…
Andrew: Oh, so that’s why. He was just parking these cars, as I understand it, along the streets of London?
Dave: That’s right. Obviously, London is a big place, but essentially he wasn’t parking them in the essential London bit, he was parking them in a suburb of London outside his house. We’re not talking about ten cars. We’re talking about 100 cars.
Andrew: A hundred cars just parked out there in the street instead of the lots that people paid for and he’s not bringing them back to the lots before they come back to the airport because he is in jail for exposure.
Dave: That’s right.
Andrew: And that’s when you learned, “Hey, we’ve got to really start to do some research on the people we partner up with. It’s not enough that they want to partner with us, we need to make sure that they’re legitimate people.”
Dave: Well and since then we’ve vetted every car park that we sell. We make sure that our due diligence is done now. It was a nightmare when that was there. We’ve had all sorts of dodgy car parks. We had a guy who was parking them in McDonald’s, which was a bit of a shocker as well. The only way we found out about that was because all the cars he was parking at McDonald’s were getting parking tickets. We only found out about that because of the parking tickets coming back to the customers. Also, they would ring us up and say, “Where is my car being parked?”, and we would were like, “It’s being parked with X vendor that we’re a booking agent for.” We looked into it and he was parking them at McDonald’s. Nightmare. They’ll try anything. These are problems that we’ve solved now. We’ve really taken a lot of steps forward in that respect and we’re very stable in terms of car parks that we offer now. You have to come to us with a good proposal and a good track record to get on the website now. The guys who are on there are doing a good job. They get a lot of orders from us, so that’s turned around. It was definitely after the [Kernal] incident that we thought, “We’re going to have to tighten things up here.” That was when it became a much more collaborative process where we had to get more people involved. We realized it wasn’t possible for it to be done just with me and Martin.
Andrew: That’s when you decide to bring more people in, you’re saying.
Dave: That’s right.
Andrew: These are war stories that you can look back on with pride and say, “Hey, we got through them.” These are the kinds of stories that for most people, one or two experiences like that would make them go, “I’m done with this”. I’ve got to go get a job or do something simpler.” You stuck with it. I want to hear about one of the highs along the way so that this doesn’t come across as one of these depressing interviews for a guy who just kept getting slammed by life and his business. Do you remember?
Dave: It’s not come across like that.
Andrew: I don’t think it is and one thing that we could do is talk about the first million in sales. Do you remember the first time you looked at your accounting software and saw, look at that, we’re now at a million in sales?
Dave: Do you know what? I don’t remember that, and this is a question Jeremy asked me before, it’s more of that fantastic glow that you get inside when you know that it’s working and you think…you sit back (??). It was my brother well actually. He was our first employee. Somebody else who had worked for a long time and I’d like Curtis, one of the developers. When you sit back and you just think, “This is actually working now.”
I’m toughing my foot. I’m sort of nervous just thinking about that. It’s not enough really. I know that should (??) down with it. We talked about (??). We want to consolidate and try and make sure we keep and obviously very important is to improve the profitability which is a fantastic (??) we know we got a lot we can improve on and increase profitability.
Andrew: I said…actually before we get to the wife. One other thing I want to ask about. There is this new part of the business where you send (??) first to the airport to pick people up. Where did this idea come from?
Dave: Yea, so that critical part to it really. What happened with that was that we sell every UK a part. We look for (??) which is (??) where we consolidate a website. Where we compare all the prices. We sell every UK a part. We couldn’t find good products and by good products I mean a product that’s got good commission first that we can sell quite a lot of it so that’s (?0 would want to use. We couldn’t find good products. Certain (??) parts. We met a little bit. We got a bit of money for packing. So we felt, why not? Why (??)? Why can’t we find a good (??)? Why do we set (??)? To be honest, I wish we’ve never done it, because that’s where the company’s really grown. I wish…I’m saying that tongue and cheek. I love it…
Andrew: What percentage of the business comes from the chauffer?
Dave: It’s about 50/50.
Andrew: 50/50. OK. So, you said, “We can’t find enough places. That people have to drive around to look for these lots. We can come up with a better way.”
Dave: That’s right, yeah. Well, it’s called meet and greet this chauffer parking. It’s called valet parking in America I think. There are lots of companies that do it. But we felt as if we could do it so we opened one in Birmingham car park. Matt did one of his deals with the management team at Birmingham car park. First of all to get a license to operate a meet and greet company and we got other agents like ourselves to sell for us, so we have multiple agents selling for us and that works. We employ all of our own drivers and then we felt well that has worked, let’s do another one so we did East Midlands, which is only a small car park. That works so we felt let’s do Heathrow. So we did Heathrow and we tried to get that one going 4-5 times now. It operates fine, but we can’t quite make any money on that, which is something we are working on an ongoing basis. Then we did Lutin which is a similar size operation as Birmingham. So all of a sudden we have this meet and greet parking company and of course the benefit of that is we are the agent and we are the car park. So we are not splitting the revenue with anybody. The problem with that is … My background is websites right? So I can do that very easily, what I don’t have any experience in is operational companies and human resources and the level of accounting expertise that you need to manage a company with 60-80 drivers employed which has been a massive challenge for everyone involved and still is. We are far from being home and drying in terms of our capability of managing that size of an operation. We know what we need to do though.
Andrew: What’s that?
Dave: We still have lots of ongoing troubles with the meet and greet service. We are going to park 100,000 cars this year through that service and we are going to do another 200,000, will be more than that if you look at the parking. We’ve got the model there. The model definitely works, and it can definitely be profitable. We’ve got efficiency and staffing and training issues that are ongoing, that we need to resolve.
Andrew: Are all the parking options that are listed on your site I’m no now, stressfreeairportparking.com, are all of them chauffeur based?
Dave: On stress-free parking, on that one there. Yeah.
Andrew: But on the others, you also have an option for me to search for a parking spot that I can drive my car to and park and leave it there.
Dave: That’s right.
Andrew: Let’s see, is there anything else here along the way you guys do … here are the stats that I have. You guys now are responsible for 350,000 cars parked every year. You’re in 32 airports. Conversion rate on the website, you guys have increased to 12%. That means more than 1 in 10 people who land on the site end up actually booking with you guys?
Dave: That’s correct.
Andrew: Along with all those cars you guys handle, 500 calls come in every day from people who want to know about the service, complain, compliment, etc.
Dave: In the summer.
Andrew: [??] people who you guys employ.
Dave: As an average, we [??] 300-350 cars a day. It’s a lot to deal with, but it’s good fun.
Andrew: I’ve stretched this out for too long. I was shocked by it. Maybe most people won’t be. What happened there?
Dave: We were working so hard, me and Martin. Very focused. We’d brought it so far. We’d just moved to an office of our own. We had a new version [??] of the website that was a complete rebuild in terms of service. Not in terms of its functionality, not in terms of its best model but in terms of how it was all managed from behind. You’ve got to remember, there’s the front-facing website. Also, there’s a whole API behind it so people can book our products. There’s a travel agent login so that travel agents can book our products. We’ve got a [??] labeling system so that people can build their own system using our products. There’s a [hard] transaction management system in there, and there’s a driver management module as well.
Andrew: [??] way more complicated on the inside than it seems when I look at it on the outside. On the outside I feel like, oh, such a simple search engine. Such a simple business. These guys must be raking it in without much work. You’re saying no, look at all the stuff that goes in. As a result, what kind of hours were you putting in?
Dave: Oh, God, it was a nightmare. It makes me cringe to think about it, and I still do it. I do it less now. I’ve got two kids now. It’s unsustainable. I’m having problems not really respecting Katie, who’s my wife, and her requirements in life. That led to our being apart for quite some time. I wanted to focus on completing the website. We just had a little girl, Lottie, who’s amazing, so we took a decision. Kate went to live with her parents in London for six months while I stayed in Leeds, which is up north in England, to work on the site, to get it ready. Was that the right thing to do? Who knows. It was definitely hard to be apart.
Andrew: For six months she was with her family. You were working on the business. How did you know that the period was over, that it was time for you guys to get back together?
Dave: Good question. I can’t really remember. There comes a time when you think, well, you know, I’m ready. This phase has gone as far as it can go. I want to be back with my little girl. There’s no way that we can move to London because the business is in Leeds. It’s a hard thing for her as well. That’s how that panned out. [To business], it’s an ongoing theme, really.
Andrew: I bet. We all have to deal with it. Today I’m going to be recording with you. Then about 20 minutes after we’re done I’m going to record with someone else. Then a few hours after that I’ll record with one other person from 7 o’clock till, I don’t know, 9 o’clock. That entrepreneur’s on the East Coast, which means he’s starting at 10 o’clock and going till, I don’t know, midnight his time? We’re all facing this issue, what have you learned? What can you teach us?
Dave: Yeah, don’t do it.
Andrew: Don’t do it.
Dave: Yeah, well no. You’ve got to somehow find that balance and it’s just a question that comes to trial and error. I haven’t found that balance yet and I won’t find it I think until we’ve got to a threshold where we feel as though the company’s running on its own backing and it doesn’t need our constant attention. And you’re going to say to that, how are you going to know when that is. I don’t actually know, I don’t know when that’s going to be.
Getting definitely close, maybe, a year ago and a year from now we’ll be much closer again.
Andrew: You know what’s helped me is and it sound ridiculous. I did a series of interviews and courses on how to systemize. It helped me tremendously. Like before I used to think I was the only person who could do a pre-interview or research a guest.
You were pre-interviewed by Jeremy; he did maybe a better job than I did. Not maybe I think he did a better job than I would have done. The research that I have here in front… We lost connection there for a moment.
What I was saying for me it was systemizing then giving those systems to other people to run and improve on. What about for you, you’re saying you improved over the last year and you continue to improve. Was there one thing like systems that helped you?
Dave: I mean I’m big on systems. I love you know, they’re my whole life. I’m a coder. My whole life is based on that. I don’t know if I could identify a particular thing.
To answer your question, it’s finding that reality, realizing it’s not that all that hard work, it can’t be. But that comes from a little bit of success to understand that, though. The fact that this working now and we’re getting paid from it, and it’s not masses but it’s more than what we were getting paid before.
As far as me anyway. I don’t know [??] he’s had much more success in his career and he’s not to the level that he was before. I’m not at the level I was before. Having achieved that has allowed me to sort of get a bit more of a sense of reality about what I need to be doing. Part of that is spending time with Kate and kids [??].
Andrew: Having money does make it easier to take time off and to balance your life.
Dave: Yeah, well I’m glad you agree. The thing is you get yourself in a bit of, it’s not, ruts the wrong word. You get yourself in a bit of a situation where by you, success being success you know that you’ve got to continually keep working on it otherwise the work that you’ve done in the past is going to fall from underneath you potentially.
Dave: That’s the fare that you’ve got. I’m sure you’ve got a say, you’ve got an incredible successful website. That you’ve purposefully stopped working on it. How long would it be before all the work that you’ve done would be undone? It’s an impossible question to answer. It may be a [??] legacy that you’re leaving behind with all these interviews and I generally hope that it is.
But maybe if you stop doing it for six months it be completely gone. That’s what I start thinking about. If I don’t carry on fast and forwards and I don’t carry one driving it, finding ways to improve it, finding ways to protect what I’ve done so far then it could all go.
I’m scared of that. Is that cowardice really to think that? I mean, is that just like a confidence on ability to try to stop and succeed to make it work, maybe. I don’t know.
Andrew: Let me ask you. I actually found in my own life, in my own business that when I lose that fear that it’s all going to go away, when get to complacent and things start to take a dive. Packett, Bradford, and Reed when I thought, well I got it, everything’s good.
I remember my CFO coming to me and saying, “Hey, you know what our sales are down this month.” I thought down from what, look at the height that we’re on and a little down is fine. I don’t know why this guy’s worrying. I should of worried with him right there. I should of freaked out. Even a little bit down should of been enough for me to say, “Ah, this thing can go away unless I focus really deeply on it.”
Andrew: And then of course, because I didn’t, I think sales continued to suffer, and I wasn’t paying attention to which of my customers was going out of business, which meant that they couldn’t necessarily pay. You’ve got to focus. You’ve got to just be, I hate to say it, but paranoid. And I don’t want to live my life paranoid.
Dave: Exactly, exactly. And that brings you some stress, doesn’t it, that paranoia. It comes time to check things, and I check. My [??] doesn’t stand up to me. And I try to instill that principle into all the guys that are our managers now. You’ve got to check this, you’ve got to make sure that it’s done. You’ve got to put a system in place to make sure there’s a dual- check after you checked it, so that someone else can check it. And that’s the only way to — and I’ll add that quite often things still don’t get checked properly. And that’s the way that we do it; there’s so much to do.
Andrew: And the final question. I just noticed now, when I search my inbox for your name, you just bought a Mixergy premium membership, a big one. So first of all, thank you for being a Mixergy premium member. And at this point, I usually tell people about the membership, and instead of me telling them, I’ve got to ask you. You’ve watched Mixergy interviews before, you’ve now got a membership. What’s the value that you’re finding in Mixergy?
Dave: Yeah, well, when I first came across the website, I was surprised. It’s obviously very American focused, and I’ve watched a fair few on there, but time comes [??] means, I used to watch them all. And sometimes you don’t watch the full interview, sometimes you just [??] between it. Because some of them are quite long. But it’s a fantastic resource, and it’s amazing particularly in this age, this revolution that we’re all a part of — the Internet. There’s so many opportunities for people like ourselves to have an idea and drive it forward, and be creative. I just think it’s an incredible resource, and it’s a timeline for business creation in the modern age.
Andrew: Well thank you for contributing to it by telling your story, and helping people hear how you built it up. If anyone else wants to join Mixergy premium, I’ll just quickly say, it’s at MixergyPremium.com, and when you join, you get almost 100 courses taught by entrepreneurs who turn on their computer screen or walk you through the process of how they do what they do well. And almost 800 interviews with entrepreneurs who break down the stories of how they built up their businesses, and share the ups and the downs with you. And it’s all on MixergyPremium.com. My last question for you before we go is, we’ve talked about the struggles here, on your way to building this successful company. And I know in your mind, it’s going to be even more.
Dave: Almost successful.
Andrew: Almost — it’s weird how we do that. I still think, not nearly as successful, when people say that Mixergy is going well. I go, ‘No it’s not, I could be doing so much better.’ Was it, at this point, looking back at all this work, all the different business ideas that you tried, all the frustration with people who took cars and parked them in the street and then you had to go hunt them down — with all of that, was it worth it?
Dave: Oh yeah, it was definitely worth it.
Dave: If you ask me, well — I discuss this with Katie all the time — building a company is the most creative thing you could ever do. In terms of your own personal development and self learning, your moral fiber. It forces you to question your personality and what you think about. All different aspects of the social spectrum of politics, of negotiation, of the consumer world. It forces you to think about all this stuff. Would I do it again? That’s a different question. Would I do it again, no.
Dave: Just because it takes a lot out of you. Because I’ve done it, it’s worth it. But if I knew what it was going to do — of course you don’t know that, do you?
Dave: If you’ve got that in you, it’s the best thing you could do in your life.
Andrew: It is really, incredibly creative. And I have a feeling that when we talk a few years from now, when this thing goes even bigger and I ask you about whether it was worth it, and if you knew all the pain going into it, would you do it, you’d look at that point in your life and you’d say ‘Absolutely, because I can see the possibilities in this business. And I’m grateful to you for sharing your story. And if the audience wants to reach out to you and thank you directly, what’s a good way for them to do it?
Dave: Just my email is fine, just pop my email on the video. Dave@TravelParkingGroup.com.
Andrew: I’ll read it again for the transcribers. It’s Dave@TravelParkingGroup.com, and I always urge the audience, if they got anything of value out of this, even if they listened all this way to the end. And I know they got a lot of value out of it. Find a way to say thank you, and, Dave, thank you for including your email here so people can do it, and I’ll do it now. Thank you!
Dave: Cheers, Andrew, thank you very much, mate.
Andrew: Cheers, and have a good evening.
Dave: You, too. I’m off to bed now.
Andrew: [laughs] Good night. Thank you all for being a part of it. Bye, guys.