Starting a business is a life-altering experience. It’s something that plenty of people aspire to, yet few end up taking the plunge. The reasons are many; family obligations, fear of failure, lack of financial resources among them. That being said, the potential rewards are equally compelling.
For those of you with an entrepreneurial spirit, we thought it would be both inspirational and illuminating to conduct a Q&A with a man who has already been through the highs and lows of starting and running a successful business. Gary Cheetham, the CEO of We Buy Any Bike was kind enough to sit down with us to answer our questions about his journey from aspiring entrepreneur to the successful business owner. If you’re thinking of starting a business, his answers may help to guide you on your path to success, so read on.
1. Most entrepreneurs know pretty early on in life that they want to be in business for themselves. When did you first realize that starting your own business was the path you wanted to take?
I’ve always bought and restored motorcycles as part of the family business, and having restored them you end up selling them again. It’s something my father and his father before him have done; my friends and family and entire social circle are all bikers. To be fair, more than being entrepreneurial our main passion is motorbike restoration, but naturally the more you restore, the more you have to sell to move on to the next project.
2. Once you decided that you wanted to start a new venture, why did you choose the specific business that you did?
Looking for new project bikes has always been a passion for us, and being in the modern age we went online with We Buy Any Bike, and it’s just grown at an incredible rate from there. We use the same passion we had offline in the online world, but starting to offer motorcycle valuations online allowed us to reach a much bigger market.
3. Was the initial phase of your business self-funded? If not, how did you sell your vision to would-be financial backers?
The entire venture from the beginning was self-funded, and we remain a self-funded, independent, family business. A big percentage of our early transactions were repeated customers which helped to fund our growth. When you look after people they come back to you, so we kept advertising to a minimal. A good percentage of it even today is word of mouth and recommendation.
It’s a necessity to have a quick turnover, otherwise funding would be a problem. Often people do ask “Where do We Buy Any Bike sell their bikes?”, in answer to this, we have a network of trusted and like-minded motorcycle dealers, reducing the need for external financiers.
4. When you first started out, were you the only employee, or did you need to hire a team from the outset?
We’re family-run and we still have a primarily family and friends set up. Something that not many people know is that one of the biggest bike-buyers in the whole of the UK is a lady. My wife actually personally prices the majority of the bikes, and some of the best buyers are women buyers. Who would have thought this in such a male-dominated field? It’s true after all that behind every successful man is a successful woman!
5. Did you find that your initial hires each added unique viewpoints and skills that helped to grow the business?
We have found the motorcycle industry tends to be different from others, it’s a lifestyle business in every sense of the word, and people have a real passion for motorbikes that they bring in with them. We have even found that some people love bikes so much they approach us and want to work for free! Inevitably as we have grown we have needed to hire more people into work with us, and it’s always exciting to meet people who have the same passions we do. But aside from that, it’s a small core of people who’ve mostly been there from the beginning. That’s how we keep overheads to a minimum and focus on our service.
6. Sometimes, starting a business is a leap of faith that doesn’t pay off right away. How long did it take to turn a profit, and how did you do it?
Truthfully, once we took the passion online it was pretty much instantly successful. We made the selling process so simple that once the snowball started rolling, it just got bigger and bigger. We really found people have busy lives and anything that simplifies it seems to work. A similar model was quite successful in the car industry and it seems bikers had a need which the market wasn’t fulfilling before we started.
7. In the beginning, how did you go about spreading the word about We Buy Any Bike to your potential customer base?
The motorcycle community in the United Kingdom is really close-knit and word travels quickly about a good service almost on its own, which we’re sure is an advantage of being in this industry. On top of this, we had family connections with other dealers and die-hard bikers from the beginning which always helped it along.
8. In any resale market, there’s bound to be competition. What would you say is the crucial difference that gives your company an edge in the marketplace?
Trust takes years to gain and moments to lose. It certainly takes a lot of trusts for somebody to invite you to their home to purchase their motorcycle, and this is something we’ve worked hard to establish over our years of service to the biker community. New competitors spring up all the time and they don’t always have this as an asset.
9. As a small business owner, you’re likely called upon to wear several different hats. How would you describe your day to day responsibilities today?
Thankfully I still get to speak to the customers and this is something I’ve always enjoyed. I carry out the final stages of organizing bike collection and make the payment to the customer. I also ensure that the people who work for us care about their job, and are delivering the best service possible. There’s always room for improvement and as part of my responsibility, I am always on the lookout for this.
10. As your business grew, did you find it difficult to cede control over some of the day-to-day operations to others?
It is genuinely a difficult thing, and people have to be on their A-game when dealing with customer service. Customers have come to expect the highest standard of service these days, especially online, and it’s important to maintain this by putting the right people in the right positions. And, we’ve always found that giving somebody the right level of responsibility helps them to grow as a person, and in the end, that benefits everybody.
11. Most successful entrepreneurs are notorious workaholics. What do you do to help make sure you keep a healthy work/life balance at all times?
Bikes are and have always been my passion. I’m lucky to be working in a field which I love so much, and I have to confess some of the bikes that come in do need a “road test” before we can sell them on! In our local area in the mill town of Oldham, we are surrounded by some of the best roads in England and this always helps me to de-stress.
12. Since hindsight is said to be 20/20, is there any advice you were given early in your career that turned out to be especially helpful throughout your business journey?
Some of the best advice I ever received was to spend time looking for the best people, and don’t just employ anybody. I’ve seen other companies that have not followed this advice, and, ultimately it’s the people you employ that make the business, not yourself.
13. What was the biggest challenge that you feel you needed to overcome to build a successful company?
Some people genuinely believe that you are out to rip them off. They see us as the opposite of Robin Hood, stealing from the poor and giving to the rich. It’s actually quite the opposite; we regularly give more for bikes than people have unsuccessfully attempted to sell them for privately. We always offer a fair price with a simple and transparent service, and overcoming these misconceptions is an ongoing challenge.
14. Every entrepreneurial journey has ups and downs. Was there ever a time that you thought that the business might not succeed? If so, what kept you going?
Competition definitely causes a problem; it seems that every man and his dog is trying to do the same thing. Fortunately, we were the first and the original and we have built up a good trust, that’s what keeps us going through the more challenging times.
15. If you had to identify just one thing that you learned from the years spent running your business that you wish you’d known when starting out, what would it be?
Don’t be distracted, and focus on the core thing which is already successful. Trying new things may seem to be the right thing to do, but if you have a successful formula the best thing you can do is to focus 100% of your effort on that. We would have saved ourselves a lot of time and effort if we knew this from the beginning.
16. For anyone just starting out and deciding whether or not to start their own business, what advice can you give that might help them to find the kind of success that you have had?
Ensure that you pick the right name, and get every domain name extension, especially your country-specific one. We are WeBuyAnyBike.co.uk, competitors have got similar names and in a busy sector, it’s really important to establish your brand. And of course, if you’re lucky enough to do something you love it always helps.
This is a featured post by site supporter Andre Smith
Photo provided by author