We spoke to Dominic Bonaker, founder and CEO of Odyssey, about what inspired him to start his own company.
Sara Jones: Hello, I'm Sara. I'm a Campaigns Manager at Companies House and with me today is Dominic Bonaker. He's the CEO of Odyssey, which is a web design agency in Cardiff. And we're going to be talking about young entrepreneurship and his company today for our new #GetBizzy campaign. So thank you for joining us.
Dominic Bonaker: Thank you for having me.
SJ: Let's just start by you telling me a little bit more about you and your company.
DB: Yeah, so, my name is Dominic. I'm 23 years old and I’m the founder and CEO of Odyssey. As you said, we are a web agency based in Cardiff and we work with our clients to help them look better online. Whether that's a new website, whether it's a new shop and anything else on the web.
SJ: Okay. So what inspired you to actually start your company? Why did you decide to go off on your own?
DB: To be honest, I think it was because I couldn’t really work for anyone else. I was very kind of self-driven. I was very self-motivated and I didn't really like being told what to do a lot of the time. Especially when I knew that there was a better, or quicker, or faster or cheaper way of doing things. I felt that we were doing things because that's what we were told to do, and I didn’t like that.
So one thing that we try and incorporate into our business is that I don't think I'm any better than any of the employees. If they've got a great idea then they can bring it to me, and we can make it happen. We're not guided by these fixed guidelines at all.
SJ: Okay, and this isn't the first company that you've actually started is it? Tell me a little bit more about it?
DB: Okay, so, going back a little bit. So, the first company was set up in my first year of university and I thought ‘okay, I'm going to start a company and that's it, sorted, all done’. That's not actually the case. There were certain requirements that I had to do as the director of the company, and I didn't really feel all that comfortable doing it back then. I had a lot of commitments with the university and some other things as well. So I just decided that I was going to close that company down and I was going to focus back on my studies a lot more.
In my final year of university, I knew that this was more what I wanted to do. I went to a few job interviews and didn't really like them. I didn't really like what they were trying to achieve and what they were trying to get out of me and that's not what I wanted to do. So I registered another company. I decided to call it Tech Tailors back then and that was the original company. Then as we grew we decided that we kind of outgrew that name. It was very much where we started so we decided to change it with Companies House.
So we're now called Odyssey. So we trade as Odyssey and Odyssey literally translates into journey. So it's all about that journey, from taking a client from nowhere to a beautiful website or improving their website or whatever that looks like to them.
SJ: Cool. Okay. So did you have any particular support from anyone? You know funders, investors, or maybe it was like an entrepreneurial body. Did you get any help?
DB: So I think when we first started out it was very much, we were very alone, because it was just me by myself starting out. I didn't really know what was out there in terms of other help or other organisations that were available. I did feel a little bit isolated in that respect. But then when it came to it, it was going online, googling, seeing what networking events were coming up, seeing what support there was out there and there's so much around that you just don't even see on a regular basis. And that was one thing that really did kind of boost the company. Just kind of going out there and just meeting new people, seeing what help we can receive and just going from there.
SJ: Okay, so obviously you're a limited company now. Is there a particular reason why you decided to register with Companies House as a limited company?
DB: So basically before I registered the company, I was doing a bit of freelancing here and there, doing the odd job for a friend or family member or whatever, and I didn't really like the lack of security, it seems. I don't know maybe that was just my personal preference, but it just felt that having a limited company there was more room for growth as an organisation. You can't be a sole trader with someone else. It doesn't quite work like that.
So we decided to register the company, we became a limited company and it means that we have a lot more security over what we can do now and what we are liable for. It also comes with a bunch of insurances that we can also implement as well.
SJ: And had you heard about Companies House before you became a business owner, or was it just when you started looking?
DB: I think it was pretty simultaneously. I knew a few people that ran their own businesses and I kind of asked the general questions about how did you get started? One of the bits of advice they said as well, if you want to be a registered company, you need to go to Companies House. There's a small fee to register your company and you're off to the races kind of thing. All the instructions are on there and it walked me through the process and that's exactly what I did.
SJ: Okay. So obviously you're a company director. That comes with certain responsibilities, like filing your accounts on time. So were you aware of all of that before you became a director or was that something that you've had to learn as you've gone?
DB: So I think you'll never stop learning these types of things because there's new, maybe there's a new regulation that comes out and you need to stay adapted to that. But when I was registering the company, I always made a note of what the requirement said from me. So if it said I need to submit my accounts on this day. I'll make a little reminder in my calendar and say okay my accounts need to be set up and ready for this day. It got to a point where I didn't want to do that anymore and I was fortunate enough, because we were earning enough money, that I could outsource that to an accountant. Now my accountant deals with my books. I get automatic emails when it says that things have been submitted or when things are due for submission and I just send all that stuff over to him. He deals with it. He lets me know it's all good and I'm happy.
SJ: That's amazing. So what would you say would be the biggest challenges that you’ve faced in setting up Odyssey?
DB: I think some of the biggest challenges, for any small business, is going to be your cash flow. You don't necessarily know when your next project is going to be. When you're a very small dot in a big big world, it becomes very hard and being able to manage that cash flow is quite difficult.
So us as a company, we've never gone after funding we've always been self-funded and we did that on purpose because that's how I like to grow businesses. I want to see money coming in and I want to see money going out and I want us to have more money in the account than we started with and that's how we've grown. We haven't gone in for investment because we don't think that we need it right now. I'll never say never, but for right now, I think that we're pretty good.
SJ: That's good. So is there anything in particular that you love about being your own boss? Is it, maybe, the work-life balance and all those kind of things?
DB: It's interesting you say work-life balance because that is, that was what I thought when I started out. I was like, I’ll have loads of time and I'll be with my friends and it's going to be great and it actually turns out that it was the opposite.
I find myself working more hours. My friends do a 9 to 5 job. They go in at 9, they finish at 5. And there's no homework or there's no ongoing things that they need to take home with them and they're done for the day. It's the complete opposite when you're running your own business. Last night, I went to bed at 5 o'clock and I was up at 9, to come in and to get the day going. Starting new projects and taking work home with me all comes with the territory of being your own boss.
But at the same time it comes with so much freedom. So if I want to finish for the day at 12 o'clock, I can do that. It's not a great idea because I've got things to do but it also allows me to have that freedom.
SJ: So what do you think has been a really important factor in maybe the success of Odyssey? Is there anything in particular that you can attribute that to?
DB: The biggest thing that I would say that has helped our success is the team and the environment that we put ourselves in constantly. We're always reaching up. We're always trying to find new mentors and to find advice from people that have been doing it for longer than us. I'm still quite young in terms of business and both personally. I'm only 23 years old and I've never worked in a formal big business before as a kind of full-time employee. I've always done part-time jobs here and there and I don't have that experience. So I need to get it somehow and that’s by surrounding myself with really good people, really helpful people that want us to develop and see you grow and just seeking out those people and taking their advice.
SJ: Amazing, so what's the most important lesson that you would say you've learnt in business so far?
DB: No one's going to do it for you. So you need to go out, you need to do it. You're the one that’s in charge of your own future. Your journey is all up to you and even if someone tells you no, that doesn't matter you can do it yourself. You can go out and you can make those things happen. The amount of nos that I've received from old teachers, from people that think you'll never do it, you're only 23, what do you know about business? And now we're a team of 4, we've got a lovely office in the centre of Cardiff and I'm showing all those people that we can do it and anyone can do it if they put their mind to it.
SJ: And do you see the business developing further in the future? You know, are you going to expand to new premises?
DB: Yeah, definitely, we’re looking to grow the team. We're always looking to find talented people that actually really care about other people. It’s weird that we kind of compare ourselves to, we're a customer service company that just happens to make websites because that's honestly how we treat people. We want people to feel comfortable when they work with us and to feel inspired that they can trust us. So finding a good team is always great, something that we definitely want to push more of.
We're also moving premises in the next 7 to 8 months as well. So that's going to be another chapter in our book. And yeah, that's the best thing about starting a business, is there’s always change and as long as you can adapt to it, you're fine.
SJ: Great. So before we finish up. What would be the one piece of advice that you would give to any young entrepreneur, who's looking to, maybe they've already got a business and they're looking to grow it, or perhaps they haven't even started their business yet, but they've got a really good idea. What would be the one piece of advice that you’d give them?
DB: I think honestly it's as simple as just go out and try something. Go out and see what you can do. See what you can achieve. There's businesses that have started off with the most crazy ideas, but they just work well. They've made millions and millions, if not billions of pounds. No one thought we needed another taxi company and then Uber came along and just kind of blew everyone out of the water.
There's so many different things you can do, so just do one and if you don't like it and if it doesn't work, you try something new. And if you don't like that, you try something new and you just keep going until you find something that you actually really care about and that you're really passionate about. The one that’s going to give you the best result, is the one that you care about the most.
SJ: Great. Well, thank you very much for your time today, I really appreciate it. And everybody listening at home, you can find more information about starting a business and the #GetBizzy campaign on the Companies House website, so that's gov.uk/companieshouse.