My Way: Penny Power, founder of Ecademy, the online social business network

'I've had emails to say we've saved a marriage'

What did you want to be as a child?

A go-go dancer, I had no idea what it was but it sounded exotic.

What did you realistically think you'd end up doing?

When I was nine a boy who had cerebral palsy moved in next door and I spent my life with him. My dream was to become a physiotherapist and work with children with severe physical special needs.

Did you realise your dream?

No. I went to a private school and failed every one of my O-Levels. I realised I hadn't been taught a thing. It was a real kick in the teeth and I was stunned; I'd never felt stupid until then. I spent three years at a sixth form, re-sat my O-levels and took A- levels, but I didn't have enough to apply to become a physiotherapist.

What did you do next?

I took a year out and worked at a pub in the evenings. One night a woman came in who worked in IT recruitment and she suggested I try that. I said there was no way I would go into business because I wasn't financially motivated, but I got a job in telesales and by 24 I was fast tracked into becoming director of sales and marketing at Bytech, the computer distributor.

Why did you found Ecademy?

I left work to have my babies and when my husband became self-employed I watched an upbeat man really feeling the isolation. I realised this was common and that the internet would give such people the chance to develop their own brand and regain their self-esteem. I got someone with technical skills to build the network and met a backer who put in £250,000. In 2000 he wanted to float the company; our market price was £22m and we were six weeks away from floating when the market crashed. There followed five years of financial hell. We had 52 bank loans and 100 credit cards.

How did you survive?

I don't know. But we introduced subscriptions and got people to see we were a home for small business and that community was our strength.

Do you consider yourself successful?

Yes, in that I've achieved my goals and I'm changing lives. I've had emails from people saying we've stopped a suicide, saved a business or a marriage.

What are your job hunting tips?

The world is working towards a supply workforce, people are looking for work rather than a job. So build your online brand. Build a blog, create a network and have different employers so you're not dependent on one company.

How do I get to be where you are?

Understand yourself and build a social network. For example, if you want to sell children's clothes, then create a network for new mums rather than a site selling clothes. Think of a need, not a product or a service, and be willing to take a risk.

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