Guy has bootstrapped his company to $20 million, and last Christmas, turned down a $100 million acquisition offer. Read how he has navigated his venture.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Guy Mucklow: I set my company up over 16 years ago when I was in my late 30s.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning.
Guy Mucklow: I was born and brought up in the UK. I went to university in the UK. I am a university dropout. I lasted a year and lost interest. A lot of people in my generation were drawn into working in the finance industry. That’s where I spent the first 10 to 15 years of my career. It was a really interesting first job. I ended up as a fund manager working for a very large US money management company called Invesco. It’s a pretty well-known brand in the States.
I was thrown into the deep end. We had a huge amount of money under management. As a consequence of that, we always had an audience. I remember sitting down in my mid to late 20s with Jack Welsh having a discussion about strategies and stuff like that. It was a very interesting and unusual opportunity in my early career to learn from the great and the good of the US corporate world. I spent about 15 years there.
For various reasons, I chose to move on. One of the motivations was because I started a fairly young family at that time. I didn’t really want to bring my kids up with a city lifestyle. I wanted to move out of the country to do something slightly better where there’s a lot more space and less pressure on resources. To set that in context, my grandfather had set up a real estate business. That went on to the main market in the UK in the year that I was born. It’s quoted on the London Stock Exchange.
My father was President of the company. My brother and I got involved in it. I lasted six years there. I guess one of the reasons why I chose to leave was because it was very limited. There were a lot of diverse shareholder interests that conflicted with how I wanted to take the company. It was a conservatively-run business whereas I saw a lot of opportunity in scaling it up and taking advantage of what existed. My father also was conservative by nature. That aligned with what I saw happening. It harps back a bit to my background as an institutional fund manager.
One of the key learnings from my early life working in the city was to spot investment themes and trends. I have seen some of these major structural events happening every so often in the world. They are hugely disruptive. Where there is significant disruption, there is tremendous opportunity. The markets were recognizing the potential of the Internet. I saw it as my opportunity too. I saw it as an opportunity to do something new and realize my ambition to manage my own destiny.
Sramana Mitra: What year are we talking when you decided to leave and jump into your own thing?
Guy Mucklow: That was in 2000 right at the top of the dot-com bubble. I left the business. I had a conversation with a friend of mine. Sometimes, these things need a spark to set the wheels in motion. I went away with a friend of mine. We had a conversation about some of the opportunities that we saw. It boiled down to being dissatisfied or feeling constrained with what we were doing in our own businesses but also seeing huge opportunity with the Internet. We set up an e-commerce business for the pub sector. I don’t know how familiar you are with that particular market in the UK.
Sramana Mitra: I know there are lots of pubs in the UK and I’ve been to many. Besides that, I don’t know anything else.
Guy Mucklow: I’m just thinking in relation to the American context because I guess they don’t have what we describe as pubs. They’re bars. That was an industry that had gone through a significant transformation over the previous 10 years. There was an opportunity to fix one or two key problems in that market. A lot of pub companies were struggling to find the right people to manage those pubs for them. Recruitment is a big issue. The buying and selling of pubs was also quite a big issue.
Obviously, there’s the e-commerce aspect. We used the Internet to improve upon the buying and selling of the dry and wet goods necessary to manage those pubs effectively. We set up a business called pubowner.com. We poured the equity that I had built up in my time working for Invesco. We burnt through about $200,000 in the space of about six to nine months in that business.