Interview with Gavin Wheeldon - CEO of Applied Language Solutions About Gavin Wheeldon.

Everything from his previous business experience, business traits and mistakes, in Gavin’s own words....
1. What is your previous business experience? From a very young age I have always had a keen interest in business and making money. My working life started from the age of 12 with my first enterprise being a gardening round. Then I went onto window cleaning (bungalows only due to lack of ladders), and from there moved onto buying door chains, door chain alarms, spy holes and anything else I could sell door to door fitted at 300% profit. At the age of 14 I got my first job doing telemarketing in the evening and weekends for a local kitchen company, and soon became the ‘number 1’ salesperson in about a team of 20. I continued doing sales during college working evenings and weekends going door to door canvassing for a double glazing company. After college I got a full time job in advertising sales where I did extremely well and quickly progressed to team leader and then sales manager. I left this company at the age of 20, taking 3 of the best staff, and started my own business GIB UK, which provided databases of public sector buyers. It started with a £5K loan from the bank and grew to 50 staff and was one of the first companies to sign an agreement with the EU to get access to the tender database, which we distributed to companies based on their profile. This was pretty groundbreaking at that time as it was in the fledgling days of the Internet! Unfortunately due to various factors the company was closed down after 3 years. I then progressed into selling big ticket IT solutions including eProcurement and CMS, where I was involved in selling at the time the largest eProcurement deal in Europe for £32million. I later joined a translation company as Strategic Accounts Director winning large contracts such as BA and Novell. I then left to establish Applied Language Solutions, and have grown it rapidly but at the same time learning lessons from the earlier days also made it very stable. 2. How was your experience on Dragon’s Den?

I’m not a man afraid of taking risks, especially when it comes to business, but going head-to-head with the Dragons in their Den was nerve-wracking! Believe me, nothing can prepare you for the walk up them stairs into the Dragons’ Den!

I made a record-breaking pitch with the request for £250,000 to invest in the expansion of services, global offices and marketing in overseas markets. I was also hoping to get some of the Dragons to invest their invaluable time, knowledge and advice in the business. In return, I offered just a 4% share in the business,

which was the lowest offer the Dragons had ever been challenged with, and not surprisingly, the Dragons didn’t hesitate to give him a grilling. They questioned every aspect of the business and my plans for expansion with the use of investment, especially as I was only offering a 4% share in the company. Richard Farleigh was particularly shocked! I decided that this was a fair amount to offer as the meteoric growth rate the company has enjoyed since 2003 would see the Dragons receive a huge return on investment. However, they had never come across such a low offer and obviously ripped apart the valuation I had given the company. I did try to give as good as I got with the Dragons and justify my request. I managed to negotiate with them for about 90 minutes. My mouth felt like the Sahara Desert by the time we had finished! Duncan Bannatyne made an offer to put up half of the £250,000 for 9% of the company with the proviso that Richard Farleigh did the other, but unfortunately he didn’t think it was the right industry for him. I didn’t manage to secure any investment but, surprisingly, as I began walking away thinking ‘you win some, you lose some’ Duncan shouted that if we wanted a non-executive Chairman he would be more than happy to fulfil the role for the company. Seeing an opportunity to obtain business experience, advice and contacts I asked him how much and, unbelievably, he was willing to do it for free!! The icing on the cake then came when the floor manager commented that it was the best battle in the Dragons’ Den he had seen in three series Since my appearance on Dragon’s Den, I have been in contact with Duncan Bannatyne’s camp and we are in the process of confirming a meeting for when we are both available and in the same country!

3. What makes you stand out from the crowd as a businessman? What are the unique skills you have brought to the company? To summarise some of the key traits I would say: • • • I am tenacious and don’t get easily knocked regardless of what happens I have a passion and drive that pushes other people in my team to strive for bigger things I can spot opportunities for improvement in processes

• • •

I am extremely decisive I possess a constant thirst for knowledge and self improvement I possess a keen understanding of sales and marketing.

4. Do you have any weaknesses in business, if so where do they lie? I wouldn’t necessarily call this a weakness but I am what is considered to be a ‘delegator.’ I am great at coming up with the ideas, but not very good at finishing them and prefer to pass the tasks on to others for completion.

5. Do you think that taking risks is necessary in business? Calculated risks are definitely necessary! I am one of life’s greatest risk takers when it comes to business and have embraced opportunities in some areas that most businesses stay away from. Such as expanding the company worldwide and developing processes for the personal translation market. If I hadn’t taken the risk initially or continue to take risks in business, the company wouldn’t have been established and we wouldn’t have achieved what we have today. Although I have encountered many challenges, through sheer determination, hard work and belief in the company, the risk paid off and here I am today with a highly successful translation agency. 6. What is your biggest mistake in business? In the first business I established I didn’t maintain proper control of finances and didn’t have a true understanding of cash flow. I thought if sales are coming in, everything is hunky-dory but that isn’t always the case as I found out! Although I will say I was only 20 years old at the time. This has obviously had an influence on how I now run this company and as I learnt from the disastrous consequences of making this mistake the first time round, I now keep a tight control on finances of Applied Language Solutions.

7. Finally, do you have any key words of advice for the next budding entrepreneurs of the world? Starting my own business has changed my life. I actually get up in the morning looking forward to coming to work. If you have a product or service that you truly believe in, take the risk and go for it. It will be a lot of hard work but determination will see you through to a successful ending.