Six business success stories from the last ten years

Starting a business from scratch is hard work and there are times when it can seem like the rewards aren’t worth it.But if you hit on a winning formula, the payback can set you up for life.

Here are a number of entrepreneurs who took the seed of an idea and built successful businesses over a relatively short period.

1. Innocent

In 1998 three Cambridge graduates tried out their idea at a London music festival. They bought £500 worth of fruit and sold smoothies all weekend. They asked customers to put their empty bottle in a ‘yes’ bin if they thought they should give up their City jobs. As the ‘yes’ bin was full they resigned the next day.

They named the company ‘Innocent’ because they wanted a product that was ‘pure, fresh and unadulterated’. The company now sells two million smoothies a week to over 7,000 shops and has a turnover of £100 million.


2. Tyrells Potato Chips

William Chase made a success out of a farming failure by tickling the nation’s tastebuds. He bought his father’s farm, Tyrells Court in Herefordshire in 1984 when he was 20. But the business went the way of most farms in the 1990s and he was declared bankrupt.

A decade later he borrowed an old fryer from a fish and chip shop to see if he could make crisps. In 2003 he sank £1.5m into the venture and began to woo customers with promises of no pesticides and fully traceable ingredients.

Today annual turnover is £10 million and upmarket shops sell 500,000 bags a week with flavours such as ‘cider vinegar and sea salt’ and ‘Ludlow sausage with wholegrain mustard’. Chase even saw off mighty Tesco’s when they tried to sell the crisps without his permission.



The company is the biggest player in price comparison websites and helps customers to find the best deals on a range of products from home insurance to credit cards, mortgages and flights. Revenue comes from suppliers who pay on a ‘per click’ basis.

Founder Simon Nixon dropped out of his accounting and finance degree at Nottingham University 20 years ago to set up his first business to help mortgage brokers compare loans.

In 1999 he launched which joined the stock market this July. Despite difficult trading conditions Nixon scooped £102.5 million from the sale of 60.3 million shares.



Nightwatchman, a tool which lets office managers shut down and restart PCs from a central control point if users forget to turn them off, is good for the environment and for its parent company, 1E. The software automatically saves open files before shutting down the PC.

Sumir Karayi helped to set up 1E in 1997 with two colleagues from Microsoft. They each put in £500 and started work from the spare room of Karayi’s flat in west London.

Initially they ran the business as a commune but when this didn’t work Karayi became boss. Nightwatchman, which is now in its fourth version, helped to boost turnover at 1E to an expected £15m this year.


5. SpinVox

The idea for SpinVox grew out of its chief executive’s exasperation. When Christina Domecq tried to scribble down 14 voicemails from her mobile phone she realised there was a market for a text version of messages.

She set up SpinVox in 2003 to do exactly that. It now employs 300 people and has contracts worth £150 million.

Although her father started Domecq’s North American drinks division she insists she hasn’t used family money to set up her business. She runs the business with another famous name – Daniel Doulton, a descendant of the pottery dynasty, whom she met through his paragliding company.


6. Texperts

City highflyers Sarah McVittie and Thomas Roberts met on a graduate training programme run by merchant bank UBS. They launched what was originally called 82Ask in 2003.

Customers text a question to a team of researchers who promise to answer within five minutes. Users are charged £1 per question only if the inquiry is fully completed. Questions range from the result of a football match to how to get to a restaurant.

The company hopes to join the stock market next year and was recently valued at around £7 million.

Of course, for every start-up that succeeds several fall by the wayside. Being an entrepreneur, though, means not being afraid to try.


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