As pay-per-minute sitting room Ziferblat opens its largest branch yet, we chat with Colin Shenton, UK & Ireland CEO, about making the concept a reality and scaling up.
What did you do before you started this business?
I had spent nearly 30 years in property development and investment before launching Ziferblat in 2015. After the 2008 crash I started a couple of hospitality businesses and combining the knowledge of how commercial and residential buildings work, what occupiers want from them and how to operate them created the perfect environment in which to make Ziferblat a success.
What inspired you to start up?
I saw the pay-per-minute concept be created in Moscow in 2011 and loved the originality, honesty and authenticity of the idea. It has dovetailed perfectly with the rise of co-working and freelancing prompted by the 2008 crash and the social lifestyles of the millennials who treat us like home. Ziferblat has been the right idea at the right time delivered by the right team.
Tell us about your business in 100 words
Everything is free except the time you spend. Ziferblat is truly unique in providing work and social spaces for all kinds of people and businesses to feel at home, make of it what they want and be certain of the price. Everything else is either work or social, we bring them together and it's awesome. We create a culture of interaction, collaboration and individual contribution - make it yours!
How would you describe your business to your grandma?
It's a cross between the village hall, your sitting room and kitchen, and grandad's office. You can bring your dog, have afternoon tea, and write your presentation – ain’t nowhere else you can do that!
Where do you get advice support or help?
From my team, we have all the skills we need in-house and everyone's input is valued.
How did you access the finance you needed?
I provided the working capital myself. A start up needs to be nimble and an original idea is nigh on impossible to fund, using my own money means we make fast decisions which don't have to be analysed or refused by anyone else. Also, it's amazing what you don't have to spend if you're not conforming to a corporate style.
Now the idea is proven we regularly receive offers of equity and debt funding which we're turning down for now. When we're big enough to structure properly for private equity, we will; that means turnover of £5m or more with profits to match which we'll hit in 2019. Ziferblat has been labour of love but it's designed to be valuable.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Getting the team right. This has been as much the achievement of my Operations Director, Gareth Harold, as me. Many were called, few were chosen and we now have a finely tuned machine of people who live the culture and make the greatest brand ambassadors along with our guests. It's a happy, productive environment. Get that right and the money will surely follow.
How do your differentiate your business from others?
Our pay-per-minute concept remains unique, our interior design and inclusive culture underpin the specialness of our branches. Ziferblat is a comfortable home from home, not a stale commercial environment or some kind of forced clone.
What's it like to be your own boss?
I'm unemployable so it's a relief!
Where do you see your business in 5 years time?
More of the same; in its third year Ziferblat will turn over £3m from 6 branches, in 5 years from now (year 8) it will be doing £30m from 50 branches. Growth is exponential not straight line. The trick will be doing it without debt or external investment.
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs?
The old cliche of "just do it" is wrong. Entrepreneurs don't actually like risk; research and define your market and your place in it, ask a thousand questions, plan everything, execution is king. A great idea badly done will be a disaster, an unoriginal idea brilliantly executed can be a winner - ask all the new fancy burger restaurants! Ziferblat is a rare beast - a genius idea very well executed.