Simon Carr: The Kitchen Capitalist

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The Independent Online

The story so far: the author has sold his house to finance a manufacturing project in the hope of making a small fortune to finance his old age...

Hints and indications have emerged and evolved through various routes, and I know there is a suspicion out there that I feel I ought to try and address. It's true, isn't it, that in some small part of your generous minds, there is the ghost of a feeling that I'm a complete tosser?

It's been nearly two years that I've been hacking away, and all I've had to show for it is one disaster after another. Delays, false starts, missed deadlines, wrong settings, script errors, defective components, nit-wits, fools, numbskulls, fantasists. Then there are sudden occasions of success so sporadic and quickly over that the impression has been one of general failure compounded by the multiple, multi-dimensional failure of previous ventures.

So I feel I ought to put in a word here for myself, to gloat on at least one example of entrepreneurial success, if only to find some standing in your eyes.

Birthday Issues of The Times was an idyllic one-man cottage-industry, offering the issue of The Times that was published on the day your dear old dad was born. The interesting thing about the business was that it was a mistake. I'd been editing a give-away magazine that was distributed (often into rubbish bins) around central London. I ran a little story about an antique newspaper dealer in north Wales. It was so beautifully written that I persuaded myself. Old issues of The Times! The 18th-century originals were in a marvellously compact format, unlike anything you get today. Then the first transatlantic cable had been laid in time for the American Civil War and we were getting day-before accounts of the battles. Clearly, heritage-hungry Americans would buy these Civil War reports to send back home. I put my life savings into it.

At the same time, and just as an incidental amusement, I arranged an agency, with the Welsh dealer, to sell birthday issues of the paper to customers. I could advertise them, I thought, in the little magazine. But the real money was in historical reportage. The antique value alone. The older things were, the more valuable they became, we all knew that. In the end, I sold three, I think, or was it two? To one customer. And I had to deliver them personally. He didn't really want them but found it easier to pay me to go away.

But the birthday-issues side of it went off like a firecracker. The orders came in so fast I had to arrange a loan with my bank manager. He didn't ask to see a business plan. He said: "You want me to lend you £3,000 to buy a lot of old newspapers you think you'll be able to sell at a profit?" I smiled in a sickly way. "I must be mad," he said, signing the loan agreement. Different world then, of course. Though not too different, I hope.