By Will Smale
Business reporter, BBC News
For a mobile phone salesman who was so successful he was able to buy himself a Ferrari for his 24th birthday, Jacyn Heavens didn’t have the most auspicious of starts.
Three years earlier, in 2004, after previously working in insurance, he had got his first job selling the handsets.
And things did not initially go well for the man from Norwich, in the east of England.
“Before I started I’d talked my way into doubling my basic salary, but the only problem was that I then had to do the job,” says Jacyn, now 33.
“It was boom time for mobiles, but it wasn’t working for me, I couldn’t get one sale. One day the boss said to me, ‘Get out of the office, and don’t come back until you have a sale.’
“So I drove to an industrial estate, sat in my car and cried. I phoned my mother to say ‘I’m useless, I need to jack this in.'”
Thankfully for Jacyn, he decided to tough things out. Instead of quitting he devised a strategy to succeed.
Today the founder and boss of Epos Now, the UK’s 13th fastest-growing technology business, Jacyn is still quick to come up with ways to get around the unforeseen problems that all businesses face.
Back in 2004, his dilemma was very simple – he was trying to sell mobile phones to businesses, would spend all day cold calling firms, and they would always say no.
Then Jacyn says it dawned on him that the reason no-one was interested was because their existing contracts weren’t due for renewal.
So instead of trying to sell phones in the first instance, he would instead ask companies when their current contracts were due to run out.
He’d write this down, and soon built up a long list of forthcoming renewal dates.
Phoning back at a time when firms were indeed looking to upgrade their handsets, Jacyn says he started to win order after order.
“I was 500th out of 500 members of staff on the sales list, then all of sudden I was 200th, then 50th, then number one,” he says.
Working for a company in East Anglia at the time, he was soon headhunted by a rival mobile phone business in London.
Jacyn says his meticulous planning meant that his sales figures continued to boom, and he raked in commission payments.
So much so that by his 24th birthday he was “completely financially secure”, and treated himself to a brand new Ferrari.
But two years later he decided to quit the world of sales. “I was little burned out, I decided I’d go back to Norwich and just chill out,” he says.
“I’d reached the pinnacle in sales, I’d done everything I could do, so I thought I’d open a bar with a mate.”
‘Stacked against us’
Opening his bar in Norwich in 2009, Jacyn says he soon discovered that he had a woeful lack of knowledge regarding the finances of running a small business, despite his parents owning their own pub.
“I didn’t really understand profit and loss, VAT and payroll. And was I a limited company, or a sole trader? I didn’t know.
“But the biggest problem was that while we were making money, we didn’t know where it was all going. When we sat down and went through everything, we realised there were a lot of costs we hadn’t factored in – suppliers, telecoms, broadband, cleaners etc.”
To better get to grips with the bar’s cash flows, Jacyn realised that he needed to get an epos (electronic point of sale) system. This is a computerised till system that typically has a touchscreen and software that enables a retailer to easily check all in and outgoings.
After checking the prices of such systems, Jacyn says he found that they typically retailed for about £6,000, which he thought was far too expensive for him and thousands of other small firms.
He immediately recognised that there was a business opportunity to produce a version for less than a quarter of the price.
So, selling the Ferrari and remortgaging his house, Jacyn decided to enter the epos marketplace.
Importing the hardware from China, and paying to download a software system, Epos Now was born in Norwich in 2011.
Retailing for £1,000, sales soon boomed, with the company advertising on Google, paying “5p a click” whenever someone in the UK typed in the word “epos”.
However, a year later Jacyn says the business faced a significant problem when its then software provider pulled out.
Epos Now had to quickly find and employ its own software designer, and it was able to stay in business.
“Everything was stacked against us,” says Jacyn. “But I was all in by then, everything was in.
“You never know if you are going to be successful [when you start a business], but you just have to make a real run at it and overcome any problems.”
Today Jacyn says Epos Now is turning over £17m a year, and it has entered the US and German markets.
The company had planned to open its American office in Silicon Valley, but Jacyn says it was far too overpriced, so instead the business’s US operation is based in Orlando, Florida.
Looking ahead, technology journalist and IT consultant Adrian Mars cautions that epos firms such as Epos Now face ever growing competition from cheaper competitors, driven by big falls in the price of the hardware.
However, Jacyn says he is confident that Epos Now – of which he owns 100% of the shares – will achieve an annual turnover of £100m in five years’ time.
“Everyone is offering me money for the business, last year I was offered £50m in cash,” he says. “But I don’t do this for the money, I do it because it is fun. I enjoy the negotiations, the deal making.”