James Noble founded MyFirst a decade ago and has since built the business into one of the UK’s fastest-growing young driver insurance companies.
His story is one of graft, ambition and most importantly patience, and we were incredibly fortunate that he agreed to sit down with us for the latest instalment of our Bootstrap Fireside Chats series.
Please introduce yourself and tell us about your business?
I’m James Noble and I’m the founder of myfirst.com, a young driver insurance business that was put together to cater for young people trying to insure their cars but who have no idea what they’re doing. We provide advice and guidance to these youngsters.
Why did you decide to bootstrap your venture, rather than opt to raise investment?
We founded the company in 2013 thinking we’d be up and running quickly, but we soon realised that in insurance, nothing happens fast, there is lots of approval and licensing required before you can trade. So, we bootstrapped because we didn’t have many other options. We knew we’d have a long period of time between launching and making money, and we also knew that one of the first questions prospective investors would ask was ’when will you break even’. It became clear that raising funds would not materialise, and so bootstrap we did!
Tell us about those first few years, how the business grew and some of the top challenges you faced getting the venture off the ground organically.
Lack of salary is one, and I didn’t take one for the first two years. ‘Both my business partner and I were golf caddies, so one of us caddied one day whilst the other worked on the business, alternating for two years to get it off the ground.’ It was quite a set up. That worked for us because we were able to get so much further without needing to take money from it than if we didn’t have that option, that’s the power of teamwork.
Doing it with someone else is a huge help as on your own bootstrapping can be incredibly daunting. Yes you sacrifice a bit of control, but a smaller chunk of something is better than 100% of nothing.
Looking back, are you happy you chose to build this way, and why?
Very. Too many people lack the art of making money and too many don’t have to learn the lesson of making your business as lean as possible from day one.
Bootstrapping teaches you to build a lean business model because you have no other option, that jeopardy or fine margin does not exist when you raise a chunk of funding.
We’re now starting to see a massive shift in how the market and world views businesses, we’re becoming more focused once again on profit and the bottom line. The days of over celebrating valuations and investment are gone, it’s about what you’re bringing in.
Bootstrapping is a learning curve to building a profitable business, an old school thought to many.
Nothing is harder than building a business with no money, it builds resilience, it builds confidence and we’re delighted we chose this route.
If you were speaking with a potential founder who thinks bootstrapping is not an option for them, what would you say and what are the first steps?
Doing it with a partner would help and leaning on friends and family to support you if you can. Can you take a loan or some kind of liquidity to pursue what you’re going to do? If you can’t bootstrap an idea and believe the only way to make it work is raising money, then you will probably struggle to build a business that is sustainable and viable.
What was the most surprising advantage of bootstrapping that you didn’t know beforehand?
The biggest lesson you get from it is understanding how important it is that things make sense when you do them. Rather than putting adverts on tele, you apply a much more analytical eye on all of that. It gives you a mindset that helps scale organically. It helps you look at everything as an income and outcome. If you happen to raise money further down the line as we have, you never lose that mindset or approach.
Is there something we haven’t asked you which we should, or any final advice you’d like to offer those who are deciding to make the leap?
If you come up with an idea that you think can be successful. The idea of bootstrapping does not phase you. It only phases you if you’re not 100% confident in your business and what you’re building. If you are confident, there is no worry about going it organically.
When you do want to raise money down the line, you understand what it is that will make your business successful.