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.