Mark Pearson: Picking the brains of the award winning digital entrepreneur

Eight years after launching the business from his bedroom, he recently sold it to mobile payments firm Monitise for £55m. We picked the brains of the digital entrepreneur to learn more about his inspirational journey to stardom and success. 

Hey Mark, so you’ve had quite an eventful journey. Tell us more:

I used to be a chef and I didn’t do very well in school. I didn’t really know what I was going to do for a career, so I ended up going into catering. Once I was doing something I wanted to do I ended up focusing on it and doing quite well whereas when I didn’t want to do maths, I didn’t want to do English.

I represented the college in a catering competition. Then it went to regional for all the catering competitions and then national. I ended up winning and got a little bit of attention in the sector and then I ended up getting jobs. They were literally all around the world. I had job offers in France, America and London!

Catering is really hard. I think that nurtured me and got me go places, it made me realise if I want to achieve big things I’ve got to work really hard and it was a really interesting step from there.

Didn’t you work with Gordon Ramsey at one point?

When I worked at Claridge’s Gordon Ramsey eventually took over. I worked with him on a few occasions but because he had about 7 restaurants at the time, I didn’t work with him on a daily basis. I ended up leaving and went to work for a little startup restaurant and that was quite a bold move because when you first go and look for the job, you don’t know where to start.

It was based in Brixton and it was only maybe a 45-seater restaurant but it was great because a female entrepreneur and an angel investor type guy founded it. He made loads of money in property and it was more of a hobby for him but I got a real hands on feel for the business. I was only young, 21 and I got a real good feel for the business because I was one of the key people.

After this, I then went on to run a restaurant in South London but literally sat back one day and just thought is this really going to make me happy? Am I going to be a Gordon Ramsey? Is this going to make me my success and fortune one day? The answer was no.

How did you go from catering to technology?

I remember seeing the internet in the news when I was growing up but then there was a crash. I thought I want to do that but I didn’t know how to do it. I got to this point in life where I had the restaurants and I thought it’s not scalable.

I didn’t know what I was going to do but I thought it’s got to be on the internet and it just seemed great. I knew if you can make it right then loads of people can come. It’s like when a restaurant fills its capacity, it makes the maximum amount of money.

So it was a case of seeing the potential of online?

Potentially, online can go as far as and wide as anything, and that’s more exciting now than ever. This was before Facebook was really popular and things never really went viral like they do now.

I ended up starting a small business called Roses by Design. I was searching and saw a potential gap. That’s one of the key bits of advice I love to say. You can learn so much now. Just read, get your phone, go on the computer just read and read.

What was Roses by Design?

I really needed to do something on the internet. I ended up researching loads of ideas and I thought of the cheesiest idea in the world but essentially it was a retail website that sold a message on a rose. It was really cheesy but at least it was my own business. I outsourced the website using websites like Freelancer.

How did you first launch the idea?

At the same time I ended up doing all kinds of marketing. I did SEO, pay search and I also learnt affiliate marketing. It’s a type of marketing online and there are affliate networks. Essentially all these big retailers go on there and they advertise themselves and pay a commission. You can sign up, you can apply but you’ve got to submit a little entry form. 

This is what I'd do with Roses by Design. At the time I’d launched I was the other side. I was an advertiser looking for publishers. If you run a magazine site, you can advertise my product and I’ll pay a commission. That’s affiliate marketing.

I was being the advertiser saying, “Does anyone want to advertise my product,” and I ended up paying people a commission for sending me sales. You paid them like 10 or 15 % commission.

Why wasn’t anyone else doing it at the time?

I don’t know. I think at the time the British public thought it was tight and stingy. I remember my nan used to have all little coupons and paper coupons for milk and bread and eggs on a fridge.

It wasn’t cool to do that. Whereas online you can save loads more and I think the beauty is you go online and use a coupon site and get the discount. You can use it in the comfort of your own home.

No one is judging you. Imagine going into the supermarket and you are shuffling around with all of your coupons. I think that was the change - when the recession hit, people's attitudes changed. Having learnt about affliate marketing, I launched MyVoucherCodes in 2006 and it went very, very well and quickly outgrew the revenue I was making from the flower business which I was running as my day job.

Looking back now, did you ever expect it to be this big?

I expected it to be popular because it was a no brainer. You save people money with free deals. I was like "this is quite a cool website" but it didn’t feel like a business. It was just I was running a website and it was making money.

You’ve recently sold the business to Monetise, how did you find the whole experience?

It’s my life. It’s my baby. In my mind I knew to take the business to the next level, it needed a bigger company to take it there. It’s been good but very crazy, busier than ever. Monetise are helping us grow even stronger on mobile and internationally. It’s more exciting now for anyone. I’m like, “Guys, you think it gets easy? No, it gets hard.”

We are growing. That’s really exciting for me. I’m still helping because it’s my baby but they also need help because there are still ideas that need to be tried and tested. They see us as the experts in the discounts space. They are the experts in the banking space.

Now you’ve sold the business, does that mean some time to relax?

I still work hard now. I’m famous for being the first one in and the last one out. I’m driven and passionate. I don’t expect anyone else to work hard if I’m not working hard. A couple of years ago I bought a place in Barbados. Do you know I haven’t been there for years which is mad, isn’t it? I’ve got all these people relying on me. The team relies on me. I will have nice holidays but I feel I just love working. I’m a workaholic.

How much is business about trial and error then?

I saw a quote once which said you only have to get it right once to be a success and I’d say that’s how it worked out for me. People will see the money invested in the business and think “Fifty five million, lucky you.” But some ideas have worked and others haven’t. But all you can do is try your best.

What’s the worst that can happen? You are going to bruise your ego. Someone is going to go "that didn’t do very well." I’m like so what? I don’t care because actually look what has done well. I still try loads of stuff today and it’s harder now because every time I launch something new there’s more spotlight on it.

Finally, what advice would you give to a fellow entrepreneur?

I think you’ve got to utilise any experience you’ve got. It might be a minor piece. It might be a friend of a friend’s. Someone might be able to help you up. It’s quite hard to learn a new sector without even knowing it.

To find out more about Mark Pearson, check his website out. You can also follow him on Twitter or like his Facebook page.

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