by Keith Chaplin-Mabbutt, CEO of CVSeeMe.com
I’m kind of the odd one out in my family. My dad is a stock cutter and my mum a trained technician. My grandparents too all worked throughout their lifetime and my younger sister mixes work with raising her family.
My entrepreneurial story first began at school when I ran the school tuck shop. I loved it. Every lunch time I’d race down to the shop to set up and get ready for the volumes of fellow students who wanted their chocolate bars, crisps and pop. I came into my own during that hour each day. I???d assemble a couple of helpers and between the three of us we???d be rampant for the full hour. When everyone left, there was I alone, counting out the money from the break to check on how we???d performed compared to the day before and thinking what we should be looking at bringing in tomorrow. Little did I know that I was quickly learning benchmarking and sales forecast techniques!
It wasn’t until after graduating from University that I first decided to try something of my own. I???d actually just missed out on making it as a professional footballer having been at Millwall and Gillingham as a school boy and whilst at University played and trained with Charlton Athletic. I smile now as I recall those words Gary Stevens (ex-England International) said to me: ???You need to be better than the likes of Scott Parker and Kevin Lisbie to be offered a contract here and I???d say you???re as good. We just don???t have the capacity???As good??? as Scott Parker, a current England International. I???ll take that!
With my football dreams shattered I realised that what I loved doing was being around lots of different types of people ??? talking to all sorts and helping out where I could. I scoured the papers for a ???proper??? job and found a position being advertised at a recruitment company.
One interview, one job offer ??? and all of a sudden I was working in the recruitment Industry. And it was just 4 months later when I decided this was the Industry for me, taking my leap of faith by leaving to set up my own agency ??? all at the tender age of 22 and on the back of 4 months experience!
I had come to realise that in fact, a large number of graduates didn???t actually know what they wanted to do after leaving University. A few managed to secure the blue chip development schemes. Some found permanent work. Others ???temped???. Then the rest it seemed either sat around at home watching TV or packed their bags and went off travelling the globe. It dawned on me ??? of the hundreds of thousands of graduates each year, the large majority were available to help place into work.
My idea was born: I would set up a work placement organisation that founded itself on the catch-22 situation: ???Can???t get a job without experience; can???t experience without a job???. It would be named ???The Enhancement Initiative UK???.
I drew up a business plan (calling on my tuck shop days), decided how much I???d need to get going and took shares in Viking Direct!! – Once I???d convinced the bank to meet me halfway, I had a business account, start up cash ??? and promptly decided I needed hundreds of A4 ring binders, thousands of envelopes and endless reams of paper. Within the week, my living room turned into a make shift stationary shop.
My next bright idea? I thought to myself: ???I need to let graduates know we exist???. I need CVs so I can introduce people to companies to make placements. So I called up the Guardian national newspaper to place an advert with the title:
???GRADUATES! Can???t get a job without experience; can???t get experience without a job???. It looked great. I had a decent logo I???d come up with ??? a bit like Tetris meets the letters of ???E??? and ???I???..! I then had all of my contact details splashed over it and waited for the response. And what a response…
Having only stated my home address ??? no contact email address ??? I then got to know extremely well my local postman. As for the next two solid weeks, every day consecutively, I had my own postbag that I needed to sign for! On the first day, I opened the door with the postman saying ???Just sign here please mate??? ??? Thinking to myself I might have a parcel. He then lifted his huge sack of letters stood beside him and offered the bag to me. ???Is this all for me?!??? ???Yep, cheers mate???…
And so it happened again ??? and again. Each day for the next couple of weeks, thankfully the bags getting smaller and smaller.
What a mistake!! As now, I had literally thousands of CVs but all as paper documents filling up my living room and bedroom! I needed to be able to send these CVs electronically to companies. So, in my time of despair I called my mother and being the wonderful lady she is, I suddenly had an Admin Support person scanning and uploading all of the CVs to a database. I will forever remember this moment ??? mother and son working together in our little empire. I remember it fondly ??? though I???m not sure my mother would!
And so, as things developed, I began contacting companies in the County offering my service, suggesting I had thousands of graduates who I could help introduce to their business. Phone call after call, I would keep at it, refining my pitch with every ???No thanks??? received. I quickly gleaned the reasons for the rejection and began role-playing with the mirror. I began to come up with answers to all the same objections. And then it happened. I won my first client. They gave me a go and I???d got my first assignment. I quickly then advertised the job online and started searching through my database on key words. I thankfully received some good CVs and was able to find some too, and contacted the candidates, taking them through questions on behalf of the client. I made my short list and sent across the CVs to be given interview dates.
The interviews I???m delighted to say actually led to an offer. Of course, I know as we all do, the ups and downs and delays and all manner of things that can affect the end result. But genuinely, my very first placement came from my very first assignment. They made my candidate an offer to which they accepted and suddenly, there I was raising an invoice for ??2,000. I remember printing it off and staring at it for ages, re-reading it over and over again. ???I???ve just raised an invoice for ??2,000!??? ??? And the best bit? They paid ???
Once this happened it instantly made my business viable. I had a real business. I learnt very quickly on all manner of things and as I grew in confidence, I won more vacancies to work on and began to place more people. I then made the decision to move out of my home and into my first ???proper??? office in a business centre in Maidstone. I was suddenly driving into a car park with lots of other established businesses. I was there in my own right. It was a wonderful feeling.
I then developed things over the coming years. I decided to re-brand the company, re-naming it ???Enhance Recruit UK??? to reflect the domain we had (enhanceuk.com), focusing on graduate recruitment, and moved our operations again this time up to London since the majority of our clients were City based. I had built up a cushion of margin so was able to go out and find my first member of staff, and having then kitted out our new London space during the hours of 9pm ??? 3am, I had it ready for the following morning, for my two staff members. Entrepreneur turned handyman – we became the infallible trio and had a great time.
I managed the business over the next few years, building on margins and making a profit, experiencing the ups and downs that running any business brings. There were months that we didn???t make any sales, so without the staff knowing, I wouldn???t take a salary that particular month ?
?? instead, using a credit card to ensure bills were paid. Other months we???d do really well, and I rewarded us all with meals out or trips to a football match.
I got the business to a steady state, turning over six figures and realising an average of around 20% GP. In October 2009 I then managed to successfully sell my beloved Enhance to a ??1m turnover recruitment group. This coming about after I had six months previously, conceived my next business idea: www.CVSeeMe.com.
Since the beginning of last year, I brought to launch CVSeeMe.com as a brand new video-enabled graduate recruitment website. It was first to market in what it offered and I was fortunate enough to have been able to raise some initial Angel finance to build audience share and raise its awareness in what is a very competitive space.
I had effectively assembled a board and gained shareholders ??? all very new to what I had done previously. I was now managing other people???s money as well as my own. And so since January 2010 CVSeeMe.com has been my sole focus and it???s resulted in 2010 being an incredible journey for us. I???m pleased to say that, although I???ve been ???burning the candle at both ends??? as my grandmother used to say, CVSeeMe.com has now gained Industry recognition by winning the NORA Award for ???Best Newcomer??? to online recruitment and shown great audience growth throughout the year.
It???s been a really tough ride. Managing the expectations of shareholders, getting to grips with new technologies (Still trying to do that actually…), and striving to make a real mark in the graduate recruitment space. I believe we???re getting there and that actually, we???ve created something quite special. Certainly, we???ve made a fantastic start and the passion I have for the business and what it delivers burns ever brightly.
Being an entrepreneur is a very unique thing. You really do experience highs and lows. You???re in charge of your own destiny ??? then you might need to defer your salary. You run your own business ??? but then your only other member of staff leaves and takes with them 50% of your workforce. You make money. You spend money. One morning you???re the sales director. By the evening you???re the finance director in between being the office cleaner. And it???s also very difficult for your partner. Briony, my wife, has had to endure all sorts of ups and downs over the last 10 years.
I recall some advice I had right from the outset from a person I greatly respected. He said: ???If you want to make big money you won???t do it by working for someone else???. I thought there and then, that???s it. My mind is made up. I???m doing it. Though before he quickly added: ???But by running your own business you must be a lunatic as you???ll kiss goodbye to any social life you have currently and you???ll work all hours god sends to make it work???. Hmm..
I???d never run a business before setting up EnhanceUK. And all of my friends had ???proper??? jobs. No-one in my family had ever run their own business so I had no-one to turn to in the beginning. Was I doing things right? What WAS I doing?!
BUT! Being an entrepreneur is a thrill. You make things happen. You connect with people. You help people. Yes, the hours are long ??? I???m still working on that one! ??? but this ???sweat equity??? as I now know it???s termed (!) is worth it. In my experience, I now have the knowledge that from an idea I hatched one day sitting in an office, my organisation has since helped many hundreds of graduates secure employment they might not have done without it.
And now, I look ahead to a very exciting 2011 with the ambition to drive CVSeeMe.com on as a National Award winning platform, helping graduates and recruiters best effectively engage with one another and providing a recruitment website that becomes the only place to advertise and promote your brand and work opportunities for a graduate audience. Oh, and perhaps think about moving house and starting a family…! A wink to the wife.
I wish every single person reading this all the very best of luck in everything you do. Being an entrepreneur is an achievement in itself.
by Keith Chaplin-Mabbutt, CEO of CVSeeMe.com