I moved from Denmark to London in 1999 to study at South Bank University. After graduating, I spent the next fifteen years in the IT, dot-com and telecommunications industries.
I started on a British Telecom graduate programme and ended up being Head of SEO at Lastminute.com, managing a multi-million dollar SEM strategy in the travel sector, all while adding to my résumé (which also includes serving in the Danish Royal Navy and being a chef in Michelin-starred restaurants back in Denmark).
But through all of this I was on the lookout for the right opportunity:
The opportunity to start my own business. Something which had been my dream since I was a child. As is usually the way with these things though, the opportunity arose when I wasn’t expecting it…
One day, moving out of the London flat I was living in at the time, I noticed a red wine stain on my carpet. My initial thought was, of course – “I’m never going to get my deposit back”.
After ringing round a whole bunch of cleaning companies, I was even more certain this was going to be the case. None of them looked like they were going to get results – and none of them would provide a quote over the phone.
This annoyed me to the extent that I was happy to spend a little time complaining about it at a friend’s dinner party the following evening.
By sheer luck, the person I ended up chatting with was someone who had their own personal interest in the subject…
Anton Skarlatov is now my business partner. But at the time, he had his own cleaning company. He was only too happy to talk about the state of the industry. We soon realised we shared a similar vision for what the services industry should really be like.
Wouldn’t it be great, we started saying to each other if we could do it better? Do it differently? Do it by taking everything back to basics? Focus on delivering a quality of service which couldn’t be questioned?
In short, we were picturing services which were… fantastic.
And that’s how, in the early part of 2009, the Fantastic Services journey began. We had two laptops, a sofa to sit on and one shared mobile phone.
(Of course, we’d decided to do what we thought was the smart thing and self-fund everything. This turned out to be the best decision in the long-run. But our lack of resources was a real obstacle in the beginning.)
We started with the basics:
Our first goal was to simplify the entire process. From the initial enquiry and booking through the service itself to final payment. We knew the quality of our results had to speak for themselves in order to really stand out.
As well as some technological solutions, this meant we needed high-quality services delivered by professionals who would take pride in their jobs and take them seriously.
This was something that no one else seemed to be doing at the time – taking the services industry seriously. No one seemed to treat it like it could be an attractive or profitable one.
That might sound like an unattractive prospect in itself. But, to be honest, it only made us more convinced that our vision of a trustworthy brand represented by proud, happy professionals was one which was going to find a home in the market.
At least, we were convinced that it would in the near future…
Starting out though, this was definitely not as “clean” a process as we were hoping for. We were living on fast food and energy drinks, barely sleeping, spending 80-90 hours working every week. This had a huge effect on our personal lives. Friends, family, relationships – there was very little time for any of them.
Plus, our competitors were the furthest from welcoming I’ve ever experienced. Within a month, the tires on our branded vehicles had been slashed, we’d started receiving Facebook messages threatening to shut down our website and the phone lines to our call centre were cut.
This was partly due to the fact that the combination of my tech knowledge and our joint desire to make our services truly fantastic in terms of quality had borne fruit:
We were growing. It was a great feeling! But it also became the source of one of the biggest challenges I have ever faced as a business owner – trying to balance the see-saw-like situation this early growth created…
Initially, we had too many cleaners and a low number of clients. Then we had too many calls and not enough manpower.
With the quickly increasing demand and limited resources, we had to learn to think outside of the box. This meant we had to abandon multiple projects we had planned and relocate the project managers from one task to another. This affected our productivity in a bad way.
The takeaway point for me was to expect the unexpected and be prepared for different scenarios.
But, we were determined to make it work – and to keep on growing. We did so guided by what our clients were asking us for. Soon we were expanding out from cleaning to offer other linked home maintenance services based on what our customers told us they actually wanted from us.
We were also focused on creating those proud, happy professionals which had been a key part of our original vision. The approach we adopted – one which remains true today – is what we now call our 360-Degree Happiness philosophy.
This is the idea that everyone in the company should be treated like a partner – equally, with respect for the skills and dedication which they bring to the team.
Even including the passion and drive we had in the beginning, I think it’s this philosophy more than anything else which has stood us in the best stead over the years.
Now, ten years after we were working 80-90 hour weeks living on junk food with one mobile phone between us, in 2018 the business reported over £32.5 million worth of services, around 300 franchise partners and nearly 2,000 professionals operating under the Fantastic Services brand in the UK alone. We’ve also spread to Australia and the US.
Acquiring My Plumber – the London-based leader in plumbing services – is the latest extension of our expansion strategy of offering more of the kinds of services which our clients have told us they want to book with us.
All in all, 15,000 clients use us to make their lives just that little bit easier and happier every single month.
In my opinion, entrepreneurship has to start with hard work and perseverance. You need to be willing to overcome the constant challenges and not get downhearted, to “fall down seven times and stand up eight” as my favourite proverb has it.
But if you have a clear vision of what you want to achieve and you dare to try, you can turn your dreams into reality.
UK might need negative rates if recovery disappoints – BoE’s Vlieghe
By David Milliken and William Schomberg
LONDON (Reuters) – The Bank of England might need to cut interest rates below zero later this year or in 2022 if a recovery in the economy disappoints, especially if there is persistent unemployment, policymaker Gertjan Vlieghe said on Friday.
Vlieghe said he thought the likeliest scenario was that the economy would recover strongly as forecast by the central bank earlier this month, meaning a further loosening of monetary policy would not be needed.
Data published on Friday suggested the economy had stabilised after a new COVID-19 lockdown hit retailers last month, while businesses and consumers are hopeful a fast vaccination campaign will spur a recovery.
Vlieghe said in a speech published by the BoE that there was a risk of lasting job market weakness hurting wages and prices.
“In such a scenario, I judge more monetary stimulus would be appropriate, and I would favour a negative Bank Rate as the tool to implement the stimulus,” he said.
“The time to implement it would be whenever the data, or the balance of risks around it, suggest that the recovery is falling short of fully eliminating economic slack, which might be later this year or into next year,” he added.
Vlieghe’s comments are similar to those of fellow policymaker Michael Saunders, who said on Thursday negative rates could be the BoE’s best tool in future.
Earlier this month the BoE gave British financial institutions six months to get ready for the possible introduction of negative interest rates, though it stressed that no decision had been taken on whether to implement them.
Investors saw the move as reducing the likelihood of the BoE following other central banks and adopting negative rates.
Some senior BoE policymakers, such as Deputy Governor Dave Ramsden, believe that adding to the central bank’s 875 billion pounds ($1.22 trillion) of government bond purchases remains the best way of boosting the economy if needed.
Vlieghe underscored the scale of the hit to Britain’s economy and said it was clear the country was not experiencing a V-shaped recovery, adding it was more like “something between a swoosh-shaped recovery and a W-shaped recovery.”
“I want to emphasise how far we still have to travel in this recovery,” he said, adding that it was “highly uncertain” how much of the pent-up savings amassed by households during the lockdowns would be spent.
By contrast, last week the BoE’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, likened the economy to a “coiled spring.”
Vlieghe also warned against raising interest rates if the economy appeared to be outperforming expectations.
“It is perfectly possible that we have a short period of pent up demand, after which demand eases back again,” he said.
Higher interest rates were unlikely to be appropriate until 2023 or 2024, he said.
($1 = 0.7146 pounds)
(Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by William Schomberg)
UK economy shows signs of stabilisation after new lockdown hit
By William Schomberg and David Milliken
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s economy has stabilised after a new COVID-19 lockdown last month hit retailers, and business and consumers are hopeful the vaccination campaign will spur a recovery, data showed on Friday.
The IHS Markit/CIPS flash composite Purchasing Managers’ Index, a survey of businesses, suggested the economy was barely shrinking in the first half of February as companies adjusted to the latest restrictions.
A separate survey of households showed consumers at their most confident since the pandemic began.
Britain’s economy had its biggest slump in 300 years in 2020, when it contracted by 10%, and will shrink by 4% in the first three months of 2021, the Bank of England predicts.
The central bank expects a strong subsequent recovery because of the COVID-19 vaccination programme – though policymaker Gertjan Vlieghe said in a speech on Friday that the BoE could need to cut interest rates below zero later this year if unemployment stayed high.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due on Monday to announce the next steps in England’s lockdown but has said any easing of restrictions will be gradual.
Official data for January underscored the impact of the latest lockdown on retailers.
Retail sales volumes slumped by 8.2% from December, a much bigger fall than the 2.5% decrease forecast in a Reuters poll of economists, and the second largest on record.
“The only good thing about the current lockdown is that it’s no way near as bad for the economy as the first one,” Paul Dales, an economist at Capital Economics, said.
The smaller fall in retail sales than last April’s 18% plunge reflected growth in online shopping.
BORROWING SURGE SLOWED IN JANUARY
There was some better news for finance minister Rishi Sunak as he prepares to announce Britain’s next annual budget on March 3.
Though public sector borrowing of 8.8 billion pounds ($12.3 billion) was the first January deficit in a decade, it was much less than the 24.5 billion pounds forecast in a Reuters poll.
That took borrowing since the start of the financial year in April to 270.6 billion pounds, reflecting a surge in spending and tax cuts ordered by Sunak.
The figure does not count losses on government-backed loans which could add 30 billion pounds to the shortfall this year, but the deficit is likely to be smaller than official forecasts, the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank said.
Sunak is expected to extend a costly wage subsidy programme, at least for the hardest-hit sectors, but he said the time for a reckoning would come.
“It’s right that once our economy begins to recover, we should look to return the public finances to a more sustainable footing and I’ll always be honest with the British people about how we will do this,” he said.
Some economists expect higher taxes sooner rather than later.
“Big tax rises eventually will have to be announced, with 2022 likely to be the worst year, so that they will be far from voters’ minds by the time of the next general election in May 2024,” Samuel Tombs, at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said.
Public debt rose to 2.115 trillion pounds, or 97.9% of gross domestic product – a percentage not seen since the early 1960s.
The PMI survey and a separate measure of manufacturing from the Confederation of British Industry, showing factory orders suffering the smallest hit in a year, gave Sunak some cause for optimism.
IHS Markit’s chief business economist, Chris Williamson, said the improvement in business expectations suggested the economy was “poised for recovery.”
However the PMI survey showed factory output in February grew at its slowest rate in nine months. Many firms reported extra costs and disruption to supply chains from new post-Brexit barriers to trade with the European Union since Jan. 1.
Vlieghe warned against over-interpreting any early signs of growth. “It is perfectly possible that we have a short period of pent up demand, after which demand eases back again,” he said.
“We are experiencing something between a swoosh-shaped recovery and a W-shaped recovery. We are clearly not experiencing a V-shaped recovery.”
($1 = 0.7160 pounds)
(Editing by Angus MacSwan and Timothy Heritage)
Oil extends losses as Texas prepares to ramp up output
By Devika Krishna Kumar
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Oil prices fell for a second day on Friday, retreating further from recent highs as Texas energy companies began preparations to restart oil and gas fields shuttered by freezing weather.
Brent crude futures were down 33 cents, or 0.5%, at $63.60 a barrel by 11:06 a.m. (1606 GMT) U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 60 cents, or 1%, to $59.92.
This week, both benchmarks had climbed to the highest in more than a year.
“Price pullback thus far appears corrective and is slight within the context of this month’s major upside price acceleration,” said Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates.
Unusually cold weather in Texas and the Plains states curtailed up to 4 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude production and 21 billion cubic feet of natural gas, analysts estimated.
Texas refiners halted about a fifth of the nation’s oil processing amid power outages and severe cold.
Companies were expected to prepare for production restarts on Friday as electric power and water services slowly resume, sources said.
“While much of the selling relates to a gradual resumption of power in the Gulf coast region ahead of a significant temperature warmup, the magnitude of this week’s loss of supply may require further discounting given much uncertainty regarding the extent and possible duration of lost output,” Ritterbusch said.
Oil fell despite a surprise drop in U.S. crude stockpiles in the week to Feb. 12, before the big freeze. Inventories fell by 7.3 million barrels to 461.8 million barrels, their lowest since March, the Energy Information Administration reported on Thursday. [EIA/S]
The United States on Thursday said it was ready to talk to Iran about returning to a 2015 agreement that aimed to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Still, analysts did not expect near-term reversal of sanctions on Iran that were imposed by the previous U.S. administration.
“This breakthrough increases the probability that we may see Iran returning to the oil market soon, although there is much to be discussed and a new deal will not be a carbon-copy of the 2015 nuclear deal,” said StoneX analyst Kevin Solomon.
(Additional reporting by Ahmad Ghaddar in London and Roslan Khasawneh in Singapore and Sonali Paul in Melbourne; Editing by Jason Neely, David Goodman and David Gregorio)
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