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Ed Molyneux – from RAF pilot to entrepreneur
by Startacus Admin
In November 2013, online accounting software company FreeAgent was named among 2013’s fastest growing UK technology firms, securing 8th place on this year’s prestigious Deloitte Fast 50 in recognition of its impressive growth over the past five years; FreeAgent reported a 2128% rise in turnover for the period 2007-2012.
Here Ed Molyneux, CEO and co-founder shares his journey from RAF pilot to setting up FreeAgent in 2007…
“I have an academic computer science background, but when I left university I joined the RAF and spent a decade as a pilot flying military fast-jets. It was an incredible experience but not really the best environment for creativity or strategic control unless you are at the top, so I left in 2002 to follow the slightly less exhilarating path of being a freelancer and technology consultant.
While I was freelancing, I met my FreeAgent co-founders Olly Headey and Roan Lavery, who were also both working as freelancers. We all agreed that although we really enjoyed working for ourselves, the experience of sorting out the accounts was painful. We hated using rigid spreadsheets for our accounts and we were frustrated that there was no software available specifically for freelancers so that they could do their bookkeeping themselves – so we decided to develop one ourselves.
All three of us dived into six months of rapid development, prototyping the service and developing the business model. FreeAgent eventually went live in 2007 and we’ve been growing ever since.
We ‘bootstrapped’ the company for the first two years, working without pay and in our spare time. Luckily Olly and I were working on fairly well-paid part-time freelancing contracts at the time, and Roan worked full-time in the day and worked on FreeAgent in the evenings, but the credit cards took a pretty serious battering back then. In 2009 we raised two rounds of seed funding to allow us to work full-time on the business.
Since then we have gone on to secure £5m in external investment and that has allowed us to move ahead with our plans at a rapid pace – expanding our engineering team to accelerate product development to a high standard of customer service as user numbers dramatically increase – today we have 34,000+ customers and growing. The FreeAgent offering is constantly evolving and we’re always looking to introduce new features to make it even better but the core dynamic of our business hasn’t changed since day one. We wanted FreeAgent to be there to help freelancers and small businesses to be in control of their accounts – and that’s exactly what it does.
2014 looks exciting for us and knowing that we’re on the right track drives me on and we know that we are heading in the right direction because we have won several awards and accolades since we were founded.
And those awards are down to the really grounded-but-talented team we have on board. People ask me what I enjoy most about being an entrepreneur and the answer is that I enjoy working in a fast-paced and creative industry where you need vision, intellect and tenacity to survive and being surrounded by people who share that drive is exciting.
But there is also a downside and I must say I spend a lot of my time well outside my comfort zone. I’m very happy to sit in front of my Mac writing code – and that’s really how FreeAgent was born – but nowadays I need to be presenting to investors or standing up in front of large groups of people or cold calling. That’s a huge responsibility but it comes with the territory and I am getting better at that.
To anyone out there thinking of starting a business I would say as well as the passion, drive and tenacity you need to realise that as much as you might want to, you simply cannot do everything and you have to learn to be able to trust others to do it for you, you can’t change the world but you can do something positive every day to move you in the right direction and build momentum and you must be open-minded about tweaking your initial idea and listen to what the market wants.
“We have grown from three to 50 employees in just six years and with a great team in place we think FreeAgent will redefine not just the small business accounting software market but the whole small business accounting services market. That’s our plan – and a long way from flying those jets!”
Ed Molyneux is CEO and co-founder of FreeAgent. The company was set up in 2007 and provides an online accounting system for small businesses and freelancers. Try it for free at www.freeagent.com. Check out a recent post that they did for us on the topic of collecting payments.
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