Interviews – Technology – Thomas Fitch

Thomas Fitch, 29, quit his job as a highly successful trader for US banking group Chase Manhattan to pursue a career in e-commerce. He set up his own online video courier service Reelsonwheels.com two years ago. Fitch admits it is sometimes tough going, but remains positive he can attract investors to the site. We asked him just how hard it can be to fulfil an Internet dream

What is your background?
I studied at Cambridge University and received a 2:2 in Natural Sciences. I then worked for the Japanese bank, Nikko, as a dealer before moving to Chemical Bank (which merged with Chase Manhattan) as a trader. I was in the right places at the right time and had some luck, so I earned some very good money.

Having spent six years in the City, I had earned enough to leave merchant banking and concentrate on my own project, so I left to start my current company. The opportunity to make money in the Scandinavian markets in which I operated had disappeared and it was the right time to move on.

Have things gone to plan with Reelsonwheels.com?
I didn’t expect to be the only financial backer at this stage. One has to run the company within realistic financial bounds and I have not been able to spend as much money on things as I would have liked.

And in terms of the business growth, I have been surprised how difficult it has proved to get people to change the way they do things, for instance ordering videos by delivery, rather than going to get them themselves.

However, the delivery idea still inspires me. If we can offer the right range of new products people will catch on. If you can order convenience products to be delivered at your door quickly, and at a cut down price, that has to be attractive.

Do you find yourself ever rolling up your sleeves and mucking in?
Sure. If someone doesn’t turn up to drive a bike, for example, I might have to do the job or face losing a client.

Could satellite and digital technology make your business defunct?
Reelsonwheels.com is very flexible. We are essentially a delivery business of convenient items – it doesn’t have to be video. We are already introducing new items to our list and will continue doing so. We aim to provide a service for the kind of things you might buy from the supermarket, or even your local newsagent, in 20 minutes at a cheaper cost.

What is the future for Reelsonwheels.com?
The turnover here is small, but I’ve got no plans to call it a day. I set up the company to be a big business, doing tens of thousands of deliveries a day. It is a business that can work, and work on a big scale. However, there have to be targets and, if you fail to reach them, you have to accept that the business model has failed.

You become so committed to the idea of your own business, it is very difficult to think of doing anything else. One day you are thinking about closing shop, the next you get a call from a potential investor and you are thinking about opening up another ten delivery centers around London.

The idea works, I still believe that. However there is always the big risk that an American company with far bigger financial backing may come over to the UK and do what we do, but on a far bigger scale.

What advice would you give someone starting up their own small business?
If you are in a position where you have some financial backing, then you should be aware of exactly how that money is going to be spent in different eventualities. If your idea is something new and different from anything else, it may well be expensive to implement.

You need to be able to see a start point and an end point, in the sense that there is a finite amount of starting capital to put into a company.

Would you go into e-business if you could turn the clock back?
It is a different style of life from banking. There’s no doubt about that. On those nights when you end up pushing a scooter with a flat tire through the rain and getting abuse from the odd taxi driver, it can be fairly disheartening. However, it can be hugely rewarding, and I remain driven by the fact that I wanted to run my own business and that is what I am doing.

Yes, I would do it again. It’s not cost me an enormous amount of money, and has been an invaluable experience. I’m only 29 and there are plenty of things I might still do. Watch this space though as I might still make some serious money!

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Business, career, interview