Yet, just a few years on, he employs nearly 50 people in a Yorkshire business that specialises in the design and installation of commercial audio systems and closed-circuit TV packages - just because he saw the potential in the shop where he'd lost his job.
It is the sort of story that has become increasingly familiar as the growth of the internet has spawned a range of start-ups. But David Hall, an author and entrepreneur himself, says it could be even more common if the British showed genuine enthusiasm for enterprise and innovation. Instead, he says, we are still inclined to see entrepreneurs as "racketeers and spivs, epitomised by TV characters like Arthur Daley". As the title of his new book, In the Company of Heroes, suggests, it is a stereotyped view that has to change.
By pointing at the examples of Mr Pye and many others, the book attempts to play its part in that change. Breaking away from the usual entrepreneur books, which tend to focus on the biggest names and their personalities or life stories, it sets out to inspire would-be entrepreneurs by focusing on lesser-known business creators and the stories of their enterprises.
The idea is that this kind of emphasis will help others join the expanding ranks of successful entrepreneurs instead of just admiring them from afar. This is done by providing explanations of the processes by which businesses develop and grow, says Mr Hall, who built up a management consultancy turning over pounds 6.5m and employing 120 people before selling up three years ago. "There needs to be a recognition that, if you can't teach entrepreneurship, you can maybe nurture it," he explains.
Perhaps his most significant finding is that, for all the attention paid to preparing business plans, the founders are as likely to "just do it" as they are to spend huge amounts of time on market research. Academics and consultants come up with all kinds of technical management terms, but Mr Hall says many of the entrepreneurs he has spoken to have little understanding of such language and act more on instinct and an intuitive feel for opportunities.
n `In the Company of Heroes' is published by Kogan Page: pounds 16.99.