I started the company in 2001 in Switzerland with just me and a computer, and grew very slowly for the first couple of years. We have been established in London since 2005, and that is where the biggest chunk of our staff is now based. The idea of setting up a trading platform had been on my mind for a long time - I was already in brokerage for my job, and had seen that such platforms were already getting some traction in the US, but not here in the UK. It became viable with Europe by the end of the 90s, and so I was getting something off the ground within a couple of years of that. We are an indepedent brokerage allowing private and institutional investors to trade in Forex, as well as some spread betting and at a lower rate than doing it through the traditional brokers.
It was a one-man show for a couple of months, but then one by one, we added staff to the company. In the first year it was just two people, and then in 2002 we added one or two more people. When we came to London we were no more than six, but the company has ballooned in recent years, and we’re now 110.
I often alternate between the different locations that we have: London, Sofia (Bulgaria) and Milan (Italy), spending a week in each place, so my schedule varies a lot. When I’m in London for example, my agenda is not full at the beginning of the week, but it seems to fill itself up very quickly with meetings and consultations about the day to day issues. In the past, when I have tried to distance myself from the smaller elements of the operation, I have regretted it and had to spend twice as much time involved to correct mistakes.
London is our marketing, sales and support operations hub. It’s extremely important to the business because it is basically our interface with all of our customers. I like to be involved in this side of things a lot, as it is the best way of keeping an eye on how the business is developing for the customer. All of our programming and coding work is based in Sofia, where current products are enhance and software plugins are developed.
Right now, we’re working on the launch of a new software add-on (I’ll save you the technicalities) that can be used with our platform. With a project like this, I’ll come up with the idea, then I’ll speak to our programmers and they’ll tell me what’s possible. They take care of the complicated business of actually coding it, but then once they’ve got a prototype going, I like to do some of the testing myself to make sure I’m happy with the product before it is rolled out. Essentially I like to pay attention to projects from A to Z, that way I know that what we’re turning out as a company is quality stuff.
The business has changed because of how quickly we have grown recently, but interestingly it was easier at the beginning. We didn’t have back office programming, we just needed sales and support. Everything grew step-by-step, which is an easy process to manage, or at least a simple one. But every year it gets more complicated: now I can rely on many departments who can deal with the day to day stuff but in order to roll out a new product, I have to rally the departments to work cohesively on something which isn’t in their existing remit. That is something of a challenge. And as CEO, I have the whole responsibility to make the products work - it’s all on me to make sure we go from inception to completion.
In terms of my actual hours, every day stretched long into the evening. When I get home from work in London I am absolutely exhausted. Saturdays are my relaxation day which is much needed! I guess one of the bigger challenges is that I have a wife and two kids aged six and seven, and it is very difficult to balance my work life with my family. My wife is very understanding and respects my passion, but I take as much time as I possibly can to spend with the family.
If I had to offer some advice to other entrepreneurs, I would say to make sure that you are 100% focussed. It is very exciting, and you get to drive something which is very reactive - but that means if something goes wrong, it’s on you. To deal with that pressure, make sure you keep yourself in good physical shape - when you’re run down or not in good physical condition, it’s hard to make good decisions. but that’s the point: when you’re your own boss, you take full responsibility for what you’re doing, and that is incredibly rewarding.