Q:Tell us a little bit about what you do Merlin? A:
I own Duke of London, it’s a classic car dealership in London. My parents have always had classic cars since I was growing up. We never really owned a ‘new car’. My Dad’s been restoring classic cars for a living for about 30 years now so I was always around the business when I was growing up then I brought my first car when I was about 11. I did that all through school, but not really as a way to make money. It was just more of a hobby at this point.
Q:What was the progression from school to running your own business? A:
I didn’t get on with my first school, I just really hated it so moved to a new one in London. I found I hated it just as much there and had started bunking off at the new school too. I thought I should probably finish my A-levels just in case I did end up wanting to go to university, though at this point I had really decided that it was unlikely. I kept going anyway though, I wanted to keep my options open.
Then sometime between my AS and A2 qualifications I was asked to do an internship at a private equity firm. Once I finished the internship they told me to come back once I had finished my A-levels. So I finished my exams and went back to the company, I was there for just over a year.
I actually found during that year that I absolutely hated it. I thought I would get much more from it but it wasn’t working for me. Off the back of that I realised I could never work for anyone else again. That’s when I decided to start something on my own and took the plunge.
Q:How did you find out about the internship? A:
I found it through family – my Mum is actually one of the directors of the company. I had an interview with them and that’s when they offered me a summer internship so I could get a feel for what it was all about. They found I was doing just as well as their employees so they told me I could come back after I finished my A-levels. I was a junior broker, so working with client accounts. We were dealing with products in emerging markets and property, getting people to invest into property funds. What I was doing was pretty low level – no one was investing more than a million and although that sounds like a lot of money, it wasn’t for what we were working on. It’s all relative. I’m glad they made me finish my A-levels first though. I think they’re good to have to fall back on. They’re such a step up from GCSEs – I think if I ever did want to go into employment so long as I had decent A-levels I could.
Q:Did you ever consider university? A:
I guess not because I never got on with school. I was just ready to get out of the system and start something else. I really don’t see the point in getting in to so much debt when there are other options out there that could allow you to be actually earning money as well as getting your career going. Of course not everyone wants to start their own business and don’t have the means to do it like I did but there are so many options besides the one I took.
Q:What do you think allowed you to be able to make your business so successful from the beginning? A:
I believe that reputation is arguably one of the most important things when it comes to starting a business. Because my Dad had been running his own restoration business for the last thirty years or so he already had a reputation as being very trustworthy and reliable. Being able to work off the back of his reputation and build up my own helped quite a lot. His clients knew that I would be a proper businessman and my business was serious so I quite quickly had a reputation of my own that then helped me to get new clients.
Q:Did you ever worry about missing out on the social life at uni? A:
Not really. It’s meant to be this big experience all about gaining independence and moving out but I think running my own business and going into the world of work gave me just as much independence if not more. I learnt how to manage finances and lots of other skills that I think I can apply to work and life better than the things I would have gotten from university.
When it comes to the social side of it I knew if I really wanted to I could visit my friends who did go to university, and there are plenty of other ways to meet people besides school and education. You have to be willing to put yourself out there but there’s no reason why you can’t have just as good of a social life as someone who didn’t go to uni.
Q:What advice would you give someone looking to start their own business? A:
Definitely that networking is important from the start. It’s all part of building your reputation and getting advice from other people. Things like networking events and the UNFM society are good for finding people who have done similar things to you and it’s a good idea to connect with them. The more connections you have with people the more you’re expanding your network of useful contacts. Also don’t be too scared to give it a go – if it doesn’t work out you can always go back and try something different later on.
“I believe that reputation is arguably one of the most important things when it comes to starting a business.”