Andy Kitchener, My Biggest Mistake: We wasted time trying to raise cash from the non-believers

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The Independent Online
Andy Kitchener, 39, left school with A Levels, and after several IT jobs joined Visionware as international sales director. He moved to Planet Online, but a year later, in 1998, founded Shopcreator, which enables enterprises to set up shop on the Internet at low cost. His company is worth pounds 35m

MY GREATEST mistake was to waste time trying to sell my idea to venture capitalists who had little understanding of what it was about.

I left Planet Online three years ago to start the company which would become Shopcreator. My wife, Ann, and I took a year out and put the initial money together - we paid the best part of pounds 150,000 - and because we were still short, Ann was selling during the day and I was putting sites up at night.

We had our prototype working and as our advisers told us, we saw venture capitalists, including big names. We were advised to seek pounds 2.2m.

That was my biggest mistake. They hadn't the vision or understanding. We had four directors, who each went to nine meetings and in each case, spent a day preparing for it. That took three months, and added up to 72 days. The venture capitalists said: "Yes, we're very interested. Just prove it and cross the finishing line, then we'll put money in."

We got absolutely nothing from them. They wanted us to prove we had got to a stage where we didn't need them. One quote was classic, "You will never get to the market because IBM have a product", meaning that they had got there first. Eventually, we booked ourselves into the E-business Show and we talked to Richard Hargreaves, who set up a venture capital trust, Downing Classic. We worked with someone who understood our business.

We now run 600-odd sites, and our share price has risen to pounds 170. What I learnt from that mistake is: time is the most precious thing we have in our business. We deal in Internet years, one year is seven corporate years. Now, if we are not getting to a kind of synergy by the second meeting with someone and if they can't see the opportunity, we know we're wasting our time and we'll leave. You can't work with people unless they are ready to work with you. As human beings we like comfort, but if you are going to be successful, you sometimes have to go without it.