A year ago, Vernon Kerswell quit his undergraduate business degree to focus on his own start-up. Today, the twenty one year-old's company is looking at revenues of nearly one million pounds in 2009 by selling remote controlled toys from China in the UK.
After his first year at Manchester Business School, Kerswell decided to pursue his own career as an entrepreneur: “I took all the money I had and spent it on a one-way ticket to Beijing,” says the managing director of “ExtremeFliers”. China was an undiscovered land to him back then, but he was curious about what the country had to offer.
Having visited factories in several parts of China, Kerswell decided to develop a new type of remote controlled car and helicopter for the UK market “My product ideas were different from what was already on the market”, he says. The toys include cars that go up walls, miniature helicopters that can fly in all directions and a soon-to-be launched hybrid version of the two.
He sold his first toys by going patiently from one independent toy shop to another, persuading the retailers to stock his product for the Christmas season. “After they realized how much money they were making with the toys they were very eager to get involved with our next range”, says the entrepreneur.
Kerswell didn't pull off his idea unaided. The first prototype was developed with the help of friends on product engineering and design of the product. He also had to borrow small sums of money from friends and family members to buy the first container-load of toys from China.
After the first successful year, a private investor contributed £20,000 to develop the next product. “I was lucky. my first big investor was the father of one of my best friends”, he says. Good connections and a level of trust are essential to finding partners for your start-up, he adds.
Today, Kerswell employs ten people and spending most of his time travelling the world. On the day of our interview he had just gotten off a flight from Hong Kong, and had another four meetings scheduled that day: “It is exhausting at times”, he admits, “but the only thing I really miss is sleep. I just absolutely want to do this.”
Kerswell, who speaks Mandarin, is enchanted by the country and its possibilities. “Work... is much more flexible, there is less legislation and new ideas get developed much quicker. I just love it,” he says.
There is a price to pay, however, if you want to set up your own company from scratch. Being an entrepreneur can sometimes be rather uncomfortable: The managing director has just spent two weeks sleeping and sweating on factory floors in China. During one of his previous visits to the country his bank account was frozen and he found himself stuck in the middle of China with no cash to return to the UK. “I ended up getting myself a trumpet and busking on the Great Wall of China until I earned enough money to buy a plane ticket.”
Sometimes being an entrepreneur requires you to be as creative as you can be and use everything you have to keep the ball rolling. These are things you simply cannot learn at business school, says Kerswell. “I definitely wouldn't be where I am today without having attended business school, not least because of the support I received from my professors when I started my own company.”
But he realized after his first year that he was ready to found his own business. “It would have frustrated me to stay in education when my own company was growing so well”, he says. “I think I have learned enough for now to do it on my own.” He intends to finish his degree at some point, however, saying that it would be a shame to have wasted the first two years.
But what he is doing now is real business, he says. “You need to get your hands dirty, you need to get out of your comfort zone and just go for it.”