Apprentice winner Mark Wright has hailed the Manchester office opening of his fast-growing digital agency Climb Online – but admits that Lord Alan Sugar was initially against the idea.
Launched in January 2015, Climb Online specialises in SEO, social media, paid media and digital branding and works with businesses from all sizes, from start-ups to global brands including Imagine Cruising and HP.
The firm announced its plans for a new ‘digital hub’ in Manchester last summer and has now picked Headspace Group’s 15,000 sq ft work and events hub as its new home. The office opened last month and the team has already grown to five full-time employees.
Speaking to BusinessCloud, Wright said he had to convince Lord Sugar that opening an office in Manchester was the right move for the company.
→ READ MORE: ‘SERIOUS ABOUT TECH? YOU NEED TO GET TO MANCHESTER’
“Well, initially he didn’t want to do it,” Wright said frankly. “But then Bristol was a huge success and Manchester started being successful really quickly and now he’s ringing me up saying ‘let’s do Birmingham, let’s do Scotland, let’s do Ireland’.
“He’s now sold on the regional expansion whereas initially I think he was quite conservative.”
Wright says after trading Climb Online successfully for two years, he approached Lord Sugar about his plans to expand into Manchester but the business magnate suggested focusing on growing the London business instead.
“I told him ‘I think this is a goer, let me do it’,” Wright said. “And now he’s telling the other Apprentices to open offices in Manchester. I kind of got it through with a baptism by fire and just forced it and now he’s making the other Apprentice businesses do it.”
Australian-born Wright was victorious in series ten of The Apprentice, securing a £250,000 investment from Lord Sugar to start Climb Online, which is the most successful company to have gained investment through the BBC programme.
“I always say we’re the One Direction of The Apprentice platform – we’re the ones that made it big,” he said.
“It’s amazing that more than three years down the track I still get stopped multiple times a day for a photo or a chat. The brand value of that TV show is incredible and I would be silly to not be grateful – it was honestly like winning the business lottery.
“People always ask me ‘would you have been as successful?’ and I say ‘yes – but it would have just taken a lot longer’.”
Wright says Lord Sugar is still actively involved in the business.
“More so than I’d like – he’s not a silent investor at all!” he jokes. “In terms of business stuff he’s got a great brain for a good deal and a bad deal, how to negotiate a lease and making sure the business side and the legal side is top notch and he leaves me to do the digital marketing.
“I’ve made him a lot of money now and I think the training wheels are off and he trusts that I’m doing the right thing.”
Climb Online currently employs over 50 staff and is targeting a turnover of £10 million by the end of 2018. Wright says he hopes to grow the five-strong Manchester team to 10 this year and to 20 by the end of 2019.
The entrepreneur described the decision to set up shop in Manchester as a ‘natural progression’ for the business.
“In our sector Manchester is known to be a technical hub of the country, second to London and it was the first place I lived so I have a fond memory of living here,” he said.
“A lot of our customers are up North, so it just all made sense. We have several big clients but I can’t mention their names.”
Although businesses in the North West have spoken about the challenge of the region’s skills shortage, Wright says he’s so far found it “incredibly easy” to find good staff.
“It was actually a bit of a shock because in London we offer big lucrative packages…because you’ve got companies like Microsoft, Google, Amazon on the same street as us. The staff are asking things like ‘do we get a free buffet breakfast?’ and ‘do you have a bring your dog to work day?’ They’re getting ridiculous salaries for no experience.
“We went to Manchester with what we thought was a mediocre package – and we had to take the offer off the website because we were getting applications from really qualified people for very reasonable salaries.”
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