Everyone enjoys being able to save money. Whether you shop sales or are able to use coupons, saving money in these tough economic times can make all the difference in the world. Coupon clipping is a huge business in America but elsewhere it has taken time to catch on. Mark Pearson, founder of My Voucher Codes, has helped speed the coupon love along. We sat down with Mark to learn more about his business, background, and advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
What’s your background and why did you start your business?
I grew up on a Liverpool council estate – it was tough and we scraped by but I had a great relationship with my mum and sister. Mum was a florist – I’d spend a lot of my spare time helping her out in her shop. I think this helped instil a hard work ethic which helped me achieve what I have today. When I was at school I found it hard to engage with the more academic subjects; I much preferred the practical lessons – plus academia wasn’t my idea of success anyway, I wanted to actually work. So, after school I decided enrol into the local catering college. This allowed me to gain the key knowledge about the industry, and with a lot of hard work, to apply it. After that I was offered a position at Claridges, it was long before Gordon Ramsey began working there too. For me, it was exciting to learn from one of the best chefs in the world, as well as an astute, entrepreneurial businessman. I think some of his influence rubbed off on me as I realised I wanted to be successful too as, three years later, after teaming up with another entrepreneur, we founded a small chain of successful gastro-pubs. But, I soon discovered it was scalability I was looking for, and I knew for that I needed to look away from the hospitality industry and towards the internet.
Tell us your story and how you got to where you are?
Once I figured out I needed to find an online niche, I began the research process and looking for business models to adapt. Shortly after, I noticed there were companies in the US printing romantic messages onto rose petals, and no one was doing it in the UK. So I enlisted my mum and we started to build up the business. After a PR campaign, I got invited onto This Morning which gave the website quite a bit of attention. Some which I was expecting – one big flower delivery services got in touch, asking if I could place a discount banner on my site to drive them traffic. I was going to charge a set fee but they proposed to give me a commission for each sale, which seemed like a better deal to me. Soon, this venture was actually driving more revenue than the rest of the business. That was my first dip in the affiliate marketing water, one of the driving factors to starting my most successful business and although I didn’t realise it yet, the way it would be monetised.
The ‘aha’ moment which led me to start MyVoucherCodes actually came after seeing a box on an online train ticket booking platform. The payment page contained a field asking for a discount voucher. I thought, why not give it a go and Google it. But it took me an hour to find one on a forgotten page languishing in the back of an online forum. What got me thinking was, if there were websites offering the option to get a discount using a code, why was it so hard for me to find the voucher. So took to my laptop and started researching and noticed the coupon industry was massive in American but, moreover, no one was doing it in the UK. So in 2006, I set up MyVoucherCodes and Markcomedia.
Along the way, I’ve invested in some great companies with technology and models which have strengthened MyVoucherCodes’ proposition, such as Vou Ch Cha and Last Second Tickets. Since then, I’ve taken interest in providing support and advice, as well as investing in, start-ups with great ideas, people with a similar background to myself wanting to make it in business and especially young entrepreneurs.
What has been your most exciting investment?
I’ve invested in so many exciting companies so it’s hard to pick just one – I’m passionate about all of the start-ups and companies I’ve funded. But there are two things which really get me interested – smart technology and solving problems to the benefit of both businesses and customers. So when I discovered Last Second Tickets were combining sophisticated data segmentation with selling unsold event tickets, on behalf of promoters, to customers at a discount, it really resonated with me. In a similar way, the mix of modern app based technology, big data reporting and higher functionally offered by Shopwave, combined with offering customers integrated payment types and couponing , making retailing a pleasant experience for both vendors and customer, really struck me.
What does entrepreneurship mean to you?
An entrepreneur is one who questions the status quo, refusing to take, ‘this is the way we do things’ as an answer – someone who constantly strives for a better solution. I find I’m never really off duty – when I read newspapers and watch movies my mind constantly wanders, trying to figure out concepts, wondering whether this or that will scale or coming up with new ideas. If you’re constantly thinking of ways to reinvent the wheel, that’s step one of being an entrepreneur – the next part is working hard to get your big idea out there.
What advice would you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
If you’ve spotted the next big opportunity, just get it out there. Obviously do your research first, look for your target market and get a business plan together -that’s the easy and fun part. After that, there are 2 main things you need – passionate people to get on board with your dream and capital to get your venture off the ground. Don’t allow your dream remain just that just because you lack seed capital or support. An internet savvy entrepreneur can start a multi-million pound business from their bedroom, on next to nothing.
Connect with other entrepreneurs via Linkedin to help strengthen your ideas, business plan and pick some of the skills needed – you may even find some allies. I found the networking aspect incredibly useful as I went from just having an idea to having a well though-out plan and some great minds on board just from getting out there and chatting to other entrepreneurs.
Crowdfunding is a great way to a few boxes all in one go – get seed funding, attract passionate professionals and experts, create brand awareness, gain market insights and pull in customers, so don’t dismiss it even if you do have funding.
If you don’t have a solid idea yet but would like to become an entrepreneur, start by attending business networking events and connecting with like-minded people. Also, start following though leaders and inspirational people to get into the mind-set – you never know, you might find the inspiration you need to become a fully-fledged entrepreneur.