Courtesy of Jo Ward Photography

My Week: Richard Dinan of Phantom Card

Made In Chelsea star Richard Dinan is running two businesses as well as his showbiz life: Senturion and The Phantom Card.

by Michael Northcott
Last Updated: 10 Jan 2014

I run a couple of business ventures, so I’m extremely busy at the moment. We’re working on Senturion, which is a wristband that wirelessly unlocks your front door for you. So, first thing on Monday morning, I have to phone up the various elements of our team, find out what stumbling blocks the designers have come up against, find out how our craftsmen are doing in the factory.

I’m a techno nut so I love hearing about the processes we’re going through. I like to know how everything works, and I even obsess about things as minute as how the tool parts work on the machinery. This is useful especially when you’re trying to raise investment: I would hate to be outdone buy an investor who might know more than me about my product. Our first prototype is 10 days away, and because we’ve partnered with Yale, we’ve been able to get some of the most talented artists and CAD designers on board, which is really great. 

Still, that’s just one venture. The other is The Phantom Card, which provides paying members with 50% discounts at thousands of restaurants across the UK. I spend most of my working time in the office for this company. We’ve got a lot of young people in our office, its very busy, and it’s very ‘Google-esque’, you might say. It’s a really rewarding job this week because we have just released the app to accompany the card (there’s a touch of ‘social’ in there). 

I’ll often have meetings with our investors – I managed to raise about £1m for Phantom Card last year – to discuss where we’re at and talk about ways to get the message out there to potential customers.

In terms of my social life, I have had to cut down on the parties. Bed at one, breakfast by eight is my rule – if drink comes into your life too much, even though I’m young, it will start to screw everything up. Of course, I do still have filming that I do for Made In Chelsea, and it takes precedence contractually. So it can be a bit embarrassing to have to cancel a meeting with an investor or client, just to say: ‘I have to go on camera and talk to Ollie Locke about his new haircut.’

There is another series, and I have signed up for it. The show’s producers have been very good to me in that they know I have these businesses that I run, and they have given me the flexibility to not have to film all the time. It’s a pretty sweet deal, except if you get involved with a love triangle like I did in the second series – they want you to be there for filming a lot if that happens.

Still, back to business. When I learned that the show was going to allow me to feature Senturion – that boat party was real by the way – I had a feasibility report done and did some patent searches. I’ve always been incredibly interested in that stuff, I love building engines and soldering circuit boards and things like that.

One of the big lessons I’ve learned from Senturion is that even if you know the mechanics of what you’re doing, you can’t just nail something together and sell it. That’s why we’ve outsourced the manufacturing bits to some incredibly talented people. 

The most challenging thing about business is the absolute damning reality of marketing. It’s bloody hard to win the customer round – you can hit millions of people with your message on a product/service the looks great and sounds great, and get a miniscule response. 

We were lucky in that when we put an advertising campaign for The Phantom Card on the back of every seat on the Flybe airline’s fleet (and they carry about 600,000 people per month), we got a great response. We now have about 70,000 members. 

If I had to offer any advice to other entrepreneurs, I would say: when you start marketing your wares, dip your toe in the water first. Don’t go ‘all in’ straightaway: just do one billboard to start with, or the seats on one airliner instead of doing the whole fleet. It is always tempting to lead with your best card, but if you start small you’ll learn a lot and save a lot.

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