Two young tech entrepreneurs with big dreams are relishing their unconventional journey into the business world.
Michael Lawes and Jordan Ryan Madeley, both 23, began BizzleIt in 2014 and have taken everything in their stride.
It has been far from boring: making diamond-encrusted iPhones for Dubai royalty on mum’s dining room table; TV appearances; and winning prestigious entrepreneur awards.
Now they are drawing on those experiences in the fight to make BizzleIt a success.
BizzleIt is an innovative platform which seeks to connect small businesses which are struggling under the costs of SEO and online marketing.
They deliver a bespoke version of the platform to clients, consistent with their branding, which allows the businesses and the public to search for one another, list services and access exclusive offers.
So what have the ‘BizzleIt boys’ learned on the way?
Dip your toes in
Jordan’s entrepreneurial gene was evident from the age of eight.
“My first business was simply buying Lego and selling them for profit to fellow kids at primary school – it lit the fire, I guess,” he says.
Jordan Ryan Madeley
“I then ventured into designing websites and graphics for clients, mostly family and friends.
“My uncle Mike came up with the idea for StudentMail, an email system we would try and sell to schools, but that didn’t go too well.”
Chance your arm
‘You make your own luck’ is a phrase often heard in business – and Michael’s experience of gold-plating gadgets and even supercars is a great example of that.
“I sent a cold email to Al Ain Class motors, a supercar dealer out in Dubai,” he remembers.
“I flew out and met the owner, who took a liking to me. A few days later I was stood with my gold-plating kit with million-pound Bugatti Veyrons and other exotic cars.
“I can’t help but feel they made a lot more than I did on that car, but it was a fun experience.
“I also once had a request through for a gold-and-diamond-encrusted iPhone inscribed with ‘HRH Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum’, the ruler of Dubai.
“I was only young at the time. I’m not sure he knows his phone was made on a dining table in my mum’s house in a small town in Derbyshire!”
Learn from setbacks
Jordan, right, with Michael
After graduating from university, Jordan and his uncle Mike had the idea for a platform to connect businesses. Having seen Michael’s entrepreneurial tendencies on Facebook, they approached him for investment and the three of them founded LogoBiz, now known as BizzleIt.
It has been far from plain sailing.
“There have been some tough lessons: I left university with £3,000 in my pocket – at least until my car blew up and left me with around £800!” says Jordan.
“I’ve had to be very wise on how I spend it, making it last until I earn from the business. Until now, I haven’t taken anything out of it.
“In July we got a knockout on a deal that we had been working on for many months – I learnt to never put your eggs in one basket. It was worth millions over a three-year contract and would have essentially set us up for life.
“It was a harsh blow. It makes you feel awful, especially when those around you are asking ‘are you going to go and get a job now’ – which makes you question what you are doing and if it is right.”
BizzleIt also offers geolocation and trend analytic software, which sends bespoke retail offers to people’s phones as they pass participating shops.
An internal staff communication platform which can also cater for staff training will be used in 200 Subway stores while its big new contract is a loyalty card system for SPAR, known as SPAR GO, which includes a mini rebrand and a special offers app.
And like a true entrepreneur, Michael has his fingers in many other pies…
“I still do the gold phones on the side – I do a lot for resellers in Nigeria, of all places. One regular of mine commissions big stuff like 24ct gold-plated iMacs and MacBooks, which is fun.
“I also started a car-wrapping business on the side last year – using spray vinyl to change the colour of a car at the customer’s home, same day.
“I also have an online radio station, Artist Control Radio, which ticks along on the side with about 2,500 streams per day. I’ve met a lot of great people and artists and had a tiny glimpse into the world of showbiz.
“I’m up at 5.40am each day and in the office for 7.30am, where I’ll spend the first couple of hours on side ventures. Then the rest of the day will be on BizzleIt.
“But don’t feel bad for me – we spend half the day flying drones and shooting Nerf guns! You can’t get bogged down in office life and we’ve got to remain creative.”
Enjoy the limelight
Jordan won the Duke of York Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2014 while Michael appeared on TV show The Money Pit.
Jordan Ryan Madeley with Prince Andrew
“It was a fantastic programme – like Dragons’ Den but with crowdfunding, which was a relatively new and hot topic at the time,” says Michael.
“Entrepreneurs would come out and pitch to us and then a group of us would choose whether to invest.
“I had a couple of investments in a water jet board park, a fitness gaming company – and I now have a lifetime supply of hair products from a salon.
“A dating app on the show received investment at a million-pound valuation so it was a very successful, if light-hearted, show about finding investment.”
Look to role models
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is an inspiration to Jordan while, closer to their Manchester office home, UKFast co-founder and CEO Lawrence Jones has been a great help to the young entrepreneurs.
“I remember sitting in my shorts and scruffy t-shirt with my lights dimmed, playing The Social Network movie over and over again as I designed and coded away my own projects,” he says.
“Today I see Mark accomplishing things which I believe entrepreneurs – especially those in tech – should be doing: providing like free internet, connecting the world, donating money and building features to make people safer. It’s very inspiring.
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“There are also people who have offered great advice and support in decisions that I have made: Lawrence Jones of UKFast, Jamil Khalil at Wakelet, Luke Grimes of Webantic and Mark Blackhurst at Digital Next.”
Keep the faith
“I’ve now seen that if you are passionate about something, stick at it and keep striving every day and things will come,” Jordan says.
“There are still days where I wake up and it’s 2017 somehow, and I am not taking a wage from it all yet – but I know it will pay off some day.”