From stumped to gazumped – the journey of an entrepreneur
By Grant Nicholson
In true Yorkshire style, it started on a cricket wicket, injured and with dreams of playing professional cricket dashed I was forced to think on my feet about what to do next.
And feet were where I turned. 19 and with no idea what I was to do now I’d snapped my achilles a week before my contract extension at Durham was due. I happened to attend the Ebor Festival in York with a friend who was busking and with no musical skill to my name I people watched and spotted women of all ages discarding their heels to walk home despite a pavement littered with potential hazards. At this point I saw an opportunity and borrowing some money from my Dad purchased 15,000 pairs of flip flops and ultimately sold them for a health profit.
It was at this moment I was struck by the bug of business, although I perhaps wasn’t aware of it then.
From the streets of York, I headed to the City and became an energy trader for five years and at this point I realised there was a huge opportunity to create a renewable energy business based around the business consumer and them not getting a fair deal. I say this because at the time we were trading energy at 4/5p and the end customers was paying 16/17p, so there was clearly money to be made in the middle of this market.
Despite the idea I actually took a detour and setup an LED lighting business, one I’m proud to say installed all the LED lights in Wembley. Our systems were designed to reduce costs so were delivered with low capital expenditure and offering lower operating costs. I eventually sold that business to some American investors and we – I say “we” as it’s important to note although the ideas may have been mine business like cricket is a team sport – made £30m.
It was at this point my time as an energy trader came back to me and I entered the energy brokerage business.
This is perhaps were the story takes a turn, it started really, well and it looked as if the business I was leading Planet U, was on the right trajectory – in fact I won the IoD’s Director of the Year award for that business – but similar to my cricket career and the old adage of “best laid plans”, it all quickly changed.
It’s easy to always blame someone else and the truth is we came up against a large foreign owned supplier who set us up to fail. Perhaps I should have seen it coming, perhaps I should have been more cautious, perhaps it was naivety; these are all thoughts I’ve pondered since.
Sadly I had to put Planet U into liquidation and the worst part of that perhaps was I felt I’d let the people around me down, I’d had a team of 85 and overnight that was gone.
I’d be lying if I said there weren’t some dark days and that soul searching didn’t take place then but ultimately, I realised similar to the curveball I was thrown at 19 I had two choices I could let this define me or I could try to fight and rebuild.
Needless to say, I chose the latter – after all I’ve got a wife and kids to provide for.
So here we are in 2022 and like all entrepreneurs I knew I had to go again, I’ll be honest there was vengeance on my mind and I set about launching Rainman Collateral an independent family office that is focused on investing in renewable infrastructure and energy related industries. Let’s be frank I am driven by the fact I want to be the biggest competitor to the supplier who ended Planet U!
Some will always say I was fortunate to be in a position to “roll again” and start Rainman but in all honesty I felt there was little else I could do, because ultimately the only person who can change the game when your back’s against the wall is you!
So since those days and starting Rainman in my living room which became a temporary office I’ve been lucky, not least because I had former six former employees who turned around and said they were with me and in fact worked for four months without being paid. Their confidence in me and perhaps most importantly my self belief – touch wood – appears to have paid off and Rainman recently filed accounts that show £9m of profit this year.
I guess from the outside reading this, it sounds fairly easy, but let me assure you it’s not! There have been dark days, there have been days of self-doubt and questioning what I’m doing. But you show me an entrepreneur who doesn’t have those and I’ll show you a liar!
The only lesson I can take away from my story and the one I hope I can pass on to colleagues and perhaps others who face challenges is believe in yourself and don’t be afraid to try, you may not always hit a boundary but you miss 100% of the chances you don’t take.