From advertising Koi Carp fishing in his parents’ garden to “channelling his inner lazy”, Barnaby Lashbrooke, founder of Time etc – a virtual assistant business (that matches entrepreneurs and professionals with hand-picked virtual assistants) – tells us where it all began.
Growing up, what was the biggest lesson you learned about money?
When I was growing up, I realised how simple it is to make money. My over-riding memory is that if I went to my dad and offered to mow the lawn – which is a very big job for a 10-year old – he is going to give me money for doing that.
I once advertised fishing in my parents’ garden – at that time, we had a pond with prize Koi Carp. I wrote on a blackboard at the end of my drive: ‘Koi Carp fishing’ for £1. To my surprise people came knocking on the door. So I think I realised early on, just with me and my blackboard – I had the ability to make money.
What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?
I am 35 years old now and I realise more about myself as I’ve got older. In the last five years, I have had a sort of awakening. I know for example, I am really good at coming up with ideas and setting a future vision about the business and how to grow a company – but I am not so good at actually following through.
So I got round it by working with really talented people. In my early days of business, I tried to do everything myself, like lots of entrepreneurs do.
Realising that some things are better done by other people is something that came reasonably late for me – in my 30s. I always say to people ‘channel your inner lazy’.
I always say to people ‘channel your inner lazy’
What has been your ‘best’ business decision?
Time etc is not my first business. I had a web hosting business before, which I started in my parents’ spare room. I sold that business in 2006 for a couple of million pounds just before the financial crisis.
It was a very technical business. There was a small group of eight of us looking after 24,000 customers. When I sold it, I didn’t know what to do. It was fantastic though to get that financial security in my life. And then I had no idea what to do next. As a small business owner you have a lot of administrative tasks to do, a lot of red tape to cut through.
Then I thought, what if we could help thousands of struggling entrepreneurs [like me] by providing them with support, just when they need it. And that is how Time etc was born.
The first five or six years of Time etc were a real struggle, just at the time of the recession. We were quite early in what we were doing online. So I tore the whole plan up and started again.
I kept the name, but changed the rest of the business. Just doing that one thing and starting again with a new business model, has enabled us to expand all over the world – our business grew by 200% last year.
What would you change about the business world, if you could?
I would make it more acceptable to be yourself in the business world.
I see a lot of people almost putting on an act or a front in the business world, even how they dress, how they speak and how they have conversations with people. There is a lot of bravado and positioning. A Lot of corporate speak and sales speak.
I would change that, I would like everyone to be themselves. I think people will live happier business lives if they did that.
Do you have any advice for tomorrow’s entrepreneurs?
To have the belief that you can start a business with a very small amount of money, in the first instance, and still grow that business into a really successful company.
The reason I say this, is that I think it is possible that this message can get lost in the ‘Dragon’s Den’ business world, where people are raising a couple of hundred thousand pounds to start up.
I think the message that you can start with nothing often gets lost. I think the most important thing to do when you are starting with nothing, is to really find a product or business that people really value highly, and want to buy from you. If you do that, you can start with very little.
You don’t need to give yourself the job of trying to raise money.
Do you think Brexit will have any effect on your business?
Although people still need to hire there is still a lot of nervousness and uncertainty about Brexit. In general, I think uncertainty around anything is a bad thing. So my desire is for the Brexit decision be made as clear as possible. so no one is anxiously waiting on the outcome. I think it will be universally bad for all British businesses, but so far, Brexit has been really good for us due to the currency weakness.