Mark Pearson was born in 1980, brought up by his mother on a poor council estate in Liverpool, England. Mark’s childhood was beset with family issues, money troubles and a feeling that education just wasn’t for him. He enjoyed the practical side of school and would look forward to lessons where he was able to get hands-on with subjects, but felt unsure of his future outside of the classroom.
When Mark’s mother opened her own flower shop, the teenage Mark enjoyed working alongside her. This business experience, where he was allowed to help with everything from serving customers to cashing up, helped to instil a work ethic that Mark is quick to note was passed on by his mother.
Mark didn’t always want to be an entrepreneur. A one-off meeting with a school careers advisor when he was 15 proved an important milestone. He told the advisor that he either wanted to be a fireman, and he’s since admitted he isn’t quite sure why, or a chef, having often cooked at home. The advisor recommended that Mark should consider the local catering college, where the balance between practical and theoretical educational better suited him.
Growing up in Liverpool surrounded by a fairly non-inspiring environment, I always had the aspiration to become successful. When I started sharing business ideas with friends at a tender age, they would invariably say “It won’t work” and I would answer “Oh yes it will.”
At twelve I started my first paper-round with a local newsagent; the period I most looked forward to was Christmas. Just like my online business, it is all about building relations. Starting in November I ensured everyone in the neighbourhood where I dropped papers knew who their paperboy was. The aim was to receive a significant Christmas bonus to pay for a BMX. I suppose the more I achieved the more I wanted to get to the next level.
I’m sure my mother found it difficult to deal with me as a child, so small but with all these wild and wonderful ideas. At 15 I decided I didn’t like school and being a scholar was not my idea of becoming successful. One particular autumn evening I mentioned to my mum that I no longer wished to return to school, instead I preferred to work on a business idea that I believed would make me a million within the first year, enabling me to leave Liverpool and move to the bright lights of London.
My only regret, or so I thought at the time, would be not being able to visit the famous landmarks around Liverpool that I had come to know and love. Not surprisingly the venture failed and, for all of ten minutes, I felt my business world had come to an end.
I am very fortunate that I not only have a strong and supportive family but also an intrinsic drive that always seems to overcome any obstacle that I’m faced with. There have been many occasions when I have lost money, relationships, or whole businesses, however I always had the thirst and hunger to move forward and meet the challenges head on.
I suppose that has been my motto throughout my life; always look at why something is possible rather than thinking about reasons why I cannot achieve something. I urge any would-be entrepreneur to keep going and fight to achieve your goals.
An encouraging lecturer told Mark he could be a great chef, encouraging him to enter a local catering competition outside of his day to day studies. Mark tentatively entered, and to his surprise, won. The competition led to a regional event, which eventually led to a national cookery competition, in which Mark was crowned “Student Chef of the Year”.
The sudden propulsion into the industry limelight brought opportunities and interest from a number of high profile restaurants, many of which were based in London. Weighing up his options, Mark decided to accept an invitation to relocate to work as a commis chef from internationally-revered Claridge’s in Mayfair, London. Gordon Ramsay arrived to run the restaurant shortly after Mark began working there, giving Mark an insight into the mind of a world-class professional as well as the opportunity to learn from and work alongside him. The hours were long and the pay was negligible, but Mark was eager to succeed and prove himself, having taken the brave decision to move more than 200 miles away from home aged just 18.
Mark was tempted away from Claridge’s by an ambitious start-up restaurant, where his talents were quickly recognised by a regular customer. The customer owned a chain of pubs, and offered Mark the opportunity to have free reign in starting and running a 100-seater restaurant out of one of them. He was 21 at the time and relished the prospect of building a business he was passionate about from the ground up. Mark borrowed £3,500 from his relatives, a huge sum of money to both Mark and his family, to buy necessary items for the business, and instantly felt a weight on his shoulders with regards to repaying the debt.
Within a short period of time, Mark had not only repaid his debt, but succeeded in both the running and promotion of the restaurant to the point where there were queues out of the door and the restaurant was incredibly profitable. Mark’s business partner agreed with his ambitious vision, providing him with two further venues, and Mark set about building the chain. It was when presiding over three restaurants, all some distance apart, that Mark first questioned the scalability of the business. He was very aware of the fact he was splitting himself in many ways, covering for staff when they called in sick yet still having to manage the financial projections and itineraries.
Mark made the decision to hand the thriving businesses to the chain-owner who had given him his first taste of running and owning businesses and set about researching other business ventures. It was during this time Mark spent many hours reading and engaging on online business forums, soaking up information posted by fellow users.
Whilst researching, Mark found a product the UK hadn’t seen before. This product allowed customers to write personalised messages, which would be inscribed onto the petals of flowers and then delivered to loved ones. The meeting of Mark’s entrepreneurial mindset and hands-on experience at his mother’s flower shop combined to create a unique business. Mark, aged 24, invested in a website, utilising online marketing tips he’d picked up from his research. Sales soared when a press release Mark sent out resulted in a well-timed appearance on ITV’s This Morning, shortly before Valentine’s Day.
Based on the media attention and success of the venture, Mark was contacted by the UK’s leading flower delivery service. They asked Mark if he would consider placing links from his site to theirs, and promised him commission if the people he sent went on to spend money on their site. After a short period of time, after the seasonal peak of Valentine’s Day, Mark soon began making more money in commission than he was in actual sales of his own personalised flowers.
When buying a train ticket to return to his native Liverpool to visit his mother, Mark noticed a box at checkout that asked him to enter a discount code. Intrigued, and encouraged by a lifetime of frugality, Mark searched online for a code. After more than an hour, he found one on a barely-used forum that gave him 10% off the cost of his ticket. An idea formed in Mark’s mind. One that, as the country prepared for recession, would change the way millions of people used the internet.
Mark considered that there was no one place online that internet users could find discount codes. He also considered that the flower delivery company that paid him every time a referred customer bought from them was simply incentivising the sharing of their services. Although in its infancy, Mark learnt that this was affiliate marketing. It was almost Christmas 2006 and Mark was 26 years old.
Mark wondered why a site that collated voucher codes hadn’t been developed before. He wondered if the reason was that the concept was illegal. After careful research, he found it wasn’t, with a small number of directories already launched in the US. Deciding to go for it, Mark paid a freelance developer £150 to build an early iteration of a site he called MyVoucherCodes. He searched for all the discount codes himself and listed them for other internet users to find.
Mark engaged with a PR firm and, within the first month of business, Mark had sent tens of thousands of pounds worth of business to third parties promoting discount codes in order to attract customers. With commission rates of up to 15%, MyVoucherCodes was profitable from day one. Within one year of trading, the site had turned over more than £1 million, achieving 60% profit margins. By the end of year two, Mark had put a small development team in place, and turned over more than £10 million. At this point, Mark still ran the business from his rented flat in Croydon. MyVoucherCodes was fantastically received by the British media, with Mark regularly featuring on TV, radio and in print as the face of recession-hit Britain.
In 2007, Mark achieved a personal goal by buying his mother, an incredibly influential figure in his life, a house.
After moving into an office and building a team of dozens by the end of year three, Mark decided to launch internationally. He started with an American version of the site, immediately making an impact and attracting discounts from well-known brands that consumers would appreciate. The parent company, Markco Media, soon outgrew its Croydon headquarters, and relocated to an office near London’s Tower Bridge, suitable for 150 members of staff.
The business continued to grow as the recession eased, with Markco Media’s, ˜Why pay more?, maxim proving a rousing sentiment that stuck with online shoppers even after the worst of times.
Considering the high profit margins and relative ease of entry, Mark wasn’t surprised to see a number of rivals crop up in the UK. To stay ahead of the competition, Mark began investing in businesses that could help Markco Media benefit both users and retailers, and was the first to launch a discount mobile app, which used geo-location technology to suggest retailers and restaurants at which users could save money whilst on the go.
One of my favorites! "I'm a great believer in luck. The harder I work the more luck I have."