Entrepreneurial lessons from a clown

MT sat down with real life clown, Partyman Group founder, CEO and business coach James Sinclair.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 11 May 2018

You don’t usually get anywhere clowning around, but try telling that to James Sinclair, the founder and CEO of the Partyman Group.

He started his business career as a 15-year old, performing magic tricks at children’s parties as Jimbo The Partyman. Over the past 17 years the Partyman Group has grown to contain seven separate businesses - including a play farm, day nurseries and the UK’s largest chain of children’s indoor play areas - employing over 350 staff and turning over £10m.

In 2015 James co-founded Entrepreneurs Network, a business training organisation, in an effort to ‘grow his profile’ and educate other entrepreneurs.

It’s not every day that you get to speak to a real life clown, let alone one who has scaled a multi-million pound leisure business ‘empire’, so MT just couldn’t resist hearing what he had to say.

So, what drove you to be a clown? And how did that turn into the Partyman Group?

I believe that if you've got natural expertise in something you should leverage it when you start a business. I loved magic and I loved business so I just fused the two together and became a businessman running a magic company - that was a lovely thing to do. A lot of people have a fear of being on stage, but I've got a fear of not being on stage so that came quite naturally to me.

I started off as a kids’ entertainer when I was 15 doing magic tricks at party shows and by the time I left school I was earning about £1,500 a week. With that money I started building a children's entertainment agency and investing money into property. But what I realised is that the business couldn't scale and it couldn't work without me in it.

I realised that eventually I would have to move the business on to something that was more of a business rather than just a really well paid job.

What’s been biggest challenge for you growing leisure businesses?

Funding. My businesses are very capital hungry - for example opening a zoo, a day nursery, an indoor play centre or a visitor attraction - they need X amount of capital and you've got to make sure you can keep funding that sort of stuff.

It was a bit difficult for me because the early business needed absolutely no capital to grow, it was just about getting the customers. But now if I want to get an extra 200,000 visitors at my farm park for example, we need to invest £3m in that.

So as a business coach, what is the golden rule you give to entrepreneurs?

When you start building the business you've got to decide what it will look like when you're finished.

People are successful in education when they know what the end goal is. For example if you know you want to be a barrister - you know you have to work really hard, do your GCSEs, your A levels, go to university and then you do a training contract.

That's the same with business. When you've got an end in mind, you get through struggle because you know what you want to build in the end. That for me separates the great and good.

I also think that entrepreneurs need to ask themselves the question 'if I had access to all of the money in the world and the best people, could I scale this into a big organisation?' If the answer is no then you've got something that you can't grow easily. Some businesses are easier to grow than others and you need to really question yourself and think about it.

Image credits: Partyman


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