made and lost millions
years Peter has made and lost a £10m company, been promoted
to managing director of Serano in London and has just founded the
UK branch of Russian based company Dataart which will be worth $250
- $350 million in five years
just another graduate then?
Nottingham Trent's Platform magazine catches up with man who had
an idea while he was brushing his teeth.
Degree: Applied Physics, 1999
How did the website come about?
A very good friend and myself decided to setup a business in selling
computer networks, during the first year of university. We set the
business up from £200 and ran it out of my student room, within
the 1st year it went from £200 to approx just over £100k.
The business grew while we were completing our degrees (i.e. spent
70% doing business 30% doing degree). When we finished our degrees,
the start of the Internet boom was just beginning, and we were looking
for a way to break into the Internet. At the time people were talking
about e-commerce sites being able to sell products to every household
in the country. However, there wasnt enough computers, or
IT literate people to achieve this. That being said, students, for
some reason, had been left out, and the business case was really
very good. Of the 4.3 million students in the UK, the majority were
IT literate, and had been on the internet for the past three years,
free access to PCs and the net and spend £5 billion pounds
a year !
So we setup a web site that would achieve 3 things:
- Provide a
unified resource for help and advice on all student related matters.
This information has almost always been available but only from
- Target the
local area, i.e. cities. There seemed little point in make a very
general site that tried to cover the entire country, because the
key to it all was students interacting. So if you were a student
in London, and wanted to find a partner, you wouldnt normally
be interested in meeting someone from Aberdeen. This local focus
allowed us to target local businesses for advertising and sponsorship
- Do nothing
remotely academic. I had been a student, and the last thing I
would have logged on to after a hard day of lectures or exams,
was an academic site. So we focused on witty, satirical stories,
games, chatting, dating, risky content, etc, etc. The site would
be written by students for students.
I came up with
the idea while brushing my teeth one morning. I went and told my
business partner and a couple of other friends, the next day the
company was formed.
We invested all the money we had made from the first business into
the new company and before we had received any outside funding had
we had a team of around 10 people and were making £23k a month
from Nottingham alone.
Around Jan 2000, due to a lot of press coverage we had a number
of companies approach us to invest or buy the company.
We agreed a deal with an American company in Feb. 2000 to buy 70%
of the company at a deal valuation of approximately £10 million.
What happened in the end? Rumours had it that it was worth alot
StudentNet was a classic dot.com story. We made a lot of money and
lost a lot of money. The company who bought Studentnet in February
2000, was hit very badly by the dot.com crisis.
So much so, that we decide that we needed to buy the company back
from them. We bought the company back in September 2000, and started
to bank roll the company ourselves, while looking for other investment.
By December 2000 we still had not found a satisfactory deal for
the company and decided it was about time we called it a day (bearing
in mind the amount of money that we had already invested in it ourselves).
So we decided to voluntary close the company down on the 22nd December
How did you move on from the website?
During the course of Studentnet I spent over 12 month doing corporate
finance in the UK, US and Switzerland. From this I had quite a large
network of contacts. The next day after Studentnet had closed I
had three job offers.
After some consideration I decided to accept the position of Marketing
Director for Australias largest portal BSF. After six months
I was offered a promotion to Managing Director of a one of a group
of companies owned by a private equity fund called Serano, based
Where did your next ventures/ideas come from?
While I was employed by Serano, one of the biggest tasks I I had
to undertake was the development of a very large, software development
At the time we were looking at developing the software in the UK
or the US. A friend of mine, who had been working extensively in
Russia, suggested that I talk to a company called DataArt.
I approached the company to see if they could build the software,
they built it at a tenth of the cost in half the time.
We were all amazed! It was at that point when I realise although
the IT sector is experiencing hard times at the moment, development
is still needed. However, the problem is maintaining standards and
This Russian company represented the way forward. I approached the
company to take a stake in it, to establish the UK / European operations.
In February 2002, I established the UK headquarters of DataArt Technologies.
The company now employees over 80 people, and have offices in New
York, San Jose, London and a software development centre in St Petersburg
Ideally where will your latest venture be in five years time?
Russia is an emerging market that has been neglected after the economic
reset five years ago. The major investment banks have moved into
Russia in a big way, and there is major investment.
One of the prime areas for growth is software, seeing as the work
force could be located anyway in the world, and the best software
developers are in St Petersburg (where Dataarts SDC is located).
In the international software programming competition which is held
every year, the St Petersburg State University have come 1st for
two years, with MIT 7th and Harvard 10th last year. It is now regarded
as the Number 1 University for Software in the world. 95% of DataArts
developers have graduated from this university.
Due to this talent and our international offices, DataArt is set
to be one of the largest software houses out of Russia. In five
years the company looks set for a flotation and at conservative
estimates the valuation placed on the company should be somewhere
in the region of $250 - $350 million.
Where do you want to be in 10 years time?
Ten years is a very long time. In truth I really dont know.
The most important thing for me is to be happy! My personal life
plays a very big part, and although business is important you work
to live not live to work. Business comes and goes, but good friends
are much harder to find, these are the people that stick with you
through thick and thin, and are worth their weight in gold.
Whats your advice to anyone wanting to go into business?
Why havent you done it yet!?! Seriously business is about
action. I have heard many people with great ideas, but the ideas
are reserved for the pub. Very few people act on them. This, I feel,
is the big difference between entrepreneurs and people who just
want to work. If you have an idea, or business, why not make it
Once you have decided to go ahead, learn to sell!! I cant
stress this enough, every aspect of any business is sales. Whether
its a legal negotiation, a staff meeting, or actually selling
products. You need to be a master, if you can sell, everything else
And for those who have already started on business ventures remember
there are only ever four ways to grow a business:
1. Increase the number of customers
2. Increase the frequency of the transactions
3. Increase the price of the products
4. Increase the efficiency of the operation
Any other information you think will be interesting?
I firmly believe that almost anything is possible if you try. I
dont feel that Studentnet did anything that the majority of
students if they put their mind to couldnt achieve. So if
we got this far, how far can you go?
We won some, lost some, but it has been an amazing journey, and
its not over yet!
I am sure there are people at university now, with even better ideas.
Come on Trent I know you have it in you.