Couple share how they won £130,000 after watching The Apprentice | Personal finance | Finance
What started as a family challenge with a budget of £10 turned into an internationally successful business that brought in £130,000 in one year. Heeding the criticisms and mistakes made by The Apprentice challenge contestants, the duo founded Systemise Fulfillment.
Mr Blackburn and Ms Thomas were inspired by a specific challenge on the show, where Lord Alan Sugar gave the two teams of contestants £500 each.
Teams then had to choose products, supply them and sell them at a profit, with the team making the highest profit winning.
The episode’s winning team printed t-shirts and sold them on a marketplace, which the entrepreneurial duo say was their main inspiration to focus on physical products.
However, they noted, “Instead of selling in person, we turned to online commerce and e-commerce as the industry was growing exponentially year on year.”
The couple, who were 25 at the time, thought it would be fun to create their own family learning game based on this challenge.
However, the Scunthorpe-based entrepreneurs had no idea how life-changing it would be.
Mr Blackburn and Ms Thomas have been together since they were 17 and said they had always had an interest in starting a business but lacked advice on which business would be suitable.
They commented, “When we watched the episode of The Apprentice, we really resonated with the idea of something practical like e-commerce – an industry we knew and came to see was the future. Selling physical products also allowed us to become familiar very quickly with ordering, preparing, shipping, organizing our then home in a system that allowed us to receive incoming products and ship outgoing products.
The family challenge was simple: a £10 budget to buy something they could sell for a profit.
Vitally, it wasn’t just the inspiration they took from The Apprentice, but they also carefully noted the blunders made by competitors, particularly that there was demand for the product they were planning to sell.
The couple shared, “One of the teams had selected a product with very little demand, so they were struggling to sell the product. We knew there had to be a way to try to identify the demand in a market for products that people were already interested in and looking for. That’s what led us to the thrift charity shop to look for a product that we thought might be useful to someone else in the country.
At a local charity shop, they found porcelain birds in an immaculate collection, dated and signed, and immediately knew there must be collectors or bird lovers out there looking for these items.
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The birds sold on eBay for an incredible profit as the initial £10 turned into £60-70, which the pair said was “like a light bulb moment going out for us”.
The couple continued to sell items on eBay, expanding to buy Monsters Inc teddy bears from Tesco and reselling them online for more than double the purchase price.
The family began to set up what began as a side business alongside their successful careers in hairdressing and engineering, a task which the two said was not easy.
They said: ‘Working full time, having Harper at just six months old was a challenge queuing at the post office to get orders shipped because it took so long. That’s when we discovered Amazon FBA (Fulfilled By Amazon) where we could ship all products to them, and they would ship them to the customer within 24 hours. The potential for scale was then possible – knowing that we could potentially sell thousands of products in volume by shipping them to Amazon and they would take care of the rest for us.
In just their second month of what was now no longer a small family challenge, the couple made £15,000 and by the end of their first year in business they had hit the incredible six-figure mark, or £130,000.
The success of the business allowed Mr. Blackburn and Ms. Thomas to leave their main jobs and pursue their business dreams full-time, but Mr. Blackburn noted that it was not a decision they were taken lightly.
He said: “Having studied for eight years to become an electrical engineer and Kylie a hairdresser and also having a young family, making a decision of this magnitude was something we discussed and thought about for a long time.
“We continued to focus on our vision for our lives, our children and our ability to work together, which ultimately gave us the courage to make this decision and leave our careers behind.”
Now, just eight years later, the duo employ 21 people and run a training program that has so far seen 4,000 trainees follow in the footsteps of entrepreneurs in their own businesses.
Besides their financial successes, the couple stressed that the true freedom of being an entrepreneur is something they will never give up.
They said, “Instead of living half our lives separately in our careers, we are now able to work together and be together.
“We have no intention of returning to traditional employment as we have a mission in our company that we are passionate about and work hard for.
“We were blessed to have experienced so many milestones such as spending time with family, experiencing the early years of our daughter Harper, being able to share with family and friends to help them achieve their goals, some of which quit their jobs, hired crews and moved into warehouses too.
The young family was also able to buy their own house and take their two children to Disneyland, a trip they described as “a family dream”.
They are also great contributors to their local community, regularly donating to charity and sponsoring a project by one of their team members: Scunthorpe’s first Baby Rainbow Memorial Garden.
They added: “We feel truly blessed and grateful every day for what we have achieved and we never take anything for granted. We strive to do as much as possible every day for a better future.
The family added that they are still huge fans of The Apprentice: “Like Dragons’ Den, we have great admiration for others who work hard to build a business from scratch, with just an idea, the will to work very hard and have the courage to work towards success, through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.