BALANCING ACT: Marshall King - e-businessman, first-time father The entrepreneur has sacrificed his dreams of participating in the Olympics in order to balance the demands of his new family and business.

BALANCING ACT: Marshall King - e-businessman, first-time father The entrepreneur has sacrificed his dreams of participating in the Olympics in order to balance the demands of his new family and business. - Arguably the best and worst day of Marshall King'

by ALICE RAWSTHORN, FT's architecture and design critic
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Arguably the best and worst day of Marshall King's life was one Sunday last summer when he found himself dashing to the hospital (where his wife was about to give birth to their first child), while screaming into his mobile phone as he tried to solve a last-minute problem threatening to scupper the first round of financing for e-commend, his e-commerce start-up.

The financing closed successfully the following day, by which time King, and his wife, Chieko, were the proud parents of their son, Robert. King, 33, then spent the next few months juggling his dual roles as ingenu entrepreneur and first-time father. 'Since Robert was born, it's been a real balancing act,' he says. 'Having your first child is a life-changing experience.

You don't want to miss out on anything. But I am also working very hard to grow the business. It's a new company and it's mine, so that drive can only come from me.'

Marshall King's day now starts at 6.15am when he spends an hour or so with Robert before leaving for his office, a short scooter-ride from his home in the west London suburb of Chiswick. After a packed day - punctuated by a lunch-time stroll to a nearby sandwich shop - he returns home at 8pm for dinner with Chieko before squeezing in another hour or so of work.

Things were very different a few years ago when King was a rising executive at Dun & Bradstreet, the information services group. His working day was long and demanding, but he had enough free time to indulge his passion for sailing as well as for outings with Chieko, also a management consultant. 'We'd meet friends for dinner or go to a concert, because Chieko loves classical music and I'll suffer it for her sake,' he recalls. 'We'd often spend weekends with my family in Ireland, or go somewhere with friends in Europe for a few days, generally Italy or France.' D&B even allowed King to put his career on ice while he prepared to sail for his native Ireland in the 1996 Olympic Games. 'There have always been three aspects to my life: career, competitive sailing and family,' he says. 'There has only ever been time for two at a time, and right now it's career and family.'

Although King has already packed a great deal into his career, he has always - 'literally since I was 10 years old' - longed to be an entrepreneur.

After graduating from Trinity College, Dublin in mathematics, he found himself sailing across the Atlantic with his mother and sister. 'My father had died, so we sold the house, bought a yacht and took off for a year.' On his return, King joined Bain & Company as a consultant. 'I spent two interesting years there learning about different aspects of business,' he recalls. 'But I knew all along that consultancy wasn't for me. It's being on the outside looking in. I wanted to be on the inside looking out.'

King enrolled on the MBA programme at INSEAD, where he met Chieko, and was hired by D&B in 1993. Having started as a strategic planner, he was promoted to become marketing director of D&B France, and moved to Lyon, leaving Chieko in London. 'Working in different countries was tough,' he remembers. 'We only saw each other every third weekend.' Another drain on his time was sailing, which he had taken up in earnest hoping to qualify for the Atlanta Olympics. Realising he needed to devote more time to the sport to reach Olympic standards, King asked D&B if he could switch to a less demanding job and became a UK marketing manager based in High Wycombe.

'It set my D&B career back two years,' he says. 'Potentially, I could have been the youngest managing director, but sailing in the Olympics was something I really wanted to do. D&B was great, but I never saw myself staying there until 64. I'd lost time climbing the greasy pole, but I wasn't really losing out because I always wanted to start my own business anyway. After the Olympics I was really itchy to keep on sailing, so I did a few regattas thinking I'd keep my hand in for the Sydney Olympics, but I was at a different place in my life. I knew I wanted to start my own company and realised that the internet was going to take over our lives. It was one of those times in business where you just had to be there.'

King spent another 18 months at D&B, where he was promoted to UK sales director, and then bought into a small software company. 'I wanted to grow the business, but my partner had different goals, so I sold my share for the same amount I'd paid for it and searched around for ideas.'

At the time, he and Chieko had spent two years doing up their house and, having noticed how hard it was to find reliable contractors, hit on the idea of launching an internet site - - which would vet builders and architects, post their details on a database for home owners to access and collect a percentage of any resulting payment.

In January 1999, he converted his loft into an office and set up e-commend with pounds 50,000 of savings. King raised pounds 1 million in first-round finance early last June and the site went live four months later. Building the business and grappling with a new baby has soaked up all King's time since last summer. During Robert's first five months, he and Chieko went away for one weekend - to Ireland - and had a handful of evenings out. They have now organised fortnightly baby-sitting.

'I try to use my time as efficiently as I can,' says King. 'Before we had Robert, I was fairly chatty at work and had lunch with colleagues every now and then. I miss that, but it would be too much of a stretch right now. I am working very hard to get a senior management team in place, so I can balance my life better. When I am at home I make an effort not to talk about work all the time. Chieko and I will talk about how Robert's doing, about her day and then a bit about mine.'

Sailing has also been sacrificed, King sold his boat last summer, but hopes to sail again this year. Longer term, he would like to have another go at the Olympics. 'I'd love to do it again,' he says. 'Luckily, in my class you can carry on until your early forties. So, who knows? So far in my life I have changed things every three or four years, maybe eventually I'll want to try something new again.'


6.15am 'Alarm goes off. Robert stirs. I make him a bottle, get him up and take him down for breakfast.'

7.45am Arrives at office. 'I'm usually the second or third person in. I read the FT and do my e-mails, check out new web sites and our own site hits.'

9am Management meetings.

11am Meeting with public relations consultant.

Midday: Works on deals with other internet sites.

1.30pm Discusses business with a work colleague over sandwich and cappuccino in a local shop.

2pm Meeting with management team.

3pm Travels into the West End to update non-executive directors about developments.

5.30pm Media interview.

7pm Returns to the office, to catch up on e-mails, phone calls and paperwork.

8pm Returns home for dinner with wife.

10pm 'If I'm lucky I'll be able to stay at home and relax. If not, I'll go back to the office to work for an hour or so.'

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