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So You Want to Be...
an 
entrepreneur

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Thursday 16th March, 2023

30min 15secs

 

In this first episode of a new mini series, I meet Owen Newton, who is looking to add to his 9-5 income with a 5-9 job. Using his evenings to come up with money making plans, Owen runs through a series of inventions from board games to subscription services. So how does he end up with an international business operating out of his garage?

(Video at the bottom of this page.)

This a a transcription of the podcast. Click above to listen.

Hi, I’m Nathan Human, this is Humanish. This episode is part of the So You Want Be…series. 

In these episodes we’ll be meeting people who have undertaken big career changes, or those who make a living with unusual jobs, and sometimes both. 

Today we meet Owen Newton and find out how you can go from being fired from a paper round, to setting up an international business in your garage. Sometimes help and inspiration came from some unexpected sources. 

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NATHAN

I headed along the A14 towards St Ives, close to the part of the world where my parents are from. I let some nostalgia creep in as and think about going to the rec behind Soham church to go down what seemed back then like an impossibly big slide. And if I was lucky, on to the very old fashioned convenience store and its limited toy options. However, I always knew that packed neatly away in the cupboard of my Nan’s spare bedroom, was a small selection of toy cars to zoom about with on the carpet. I’m the youngest of 5 and there was a bigger age gap between me and the others, and so I spent a lot of time on my own making up stories and games - I think my career choices were probably in my head back then. 

Those toys are still on my mind a little as I arrive at Owens and he makes me a cup of coffee before we head to the base of operations in his garage. It is quite a sight - but more on that later.

 

I’ve read numerous times that if you want something, you have to imagine it first. I wondered if young Owen had entertained dreams of any particular career. 

 

OWEN

No. Weirdly, I joke about this all the time; I didn’t have an imagination as a child and I really struggled playing with toys, which is ironic, considering I’m working with toys now. But as a child, I just couldn’t play at all with toys or imagination games, like playing with pretend guns or anything like that. I really struggled.

 

NATHAN

There might not have been any idle day dreams of fantastic careers - but what there was, was a work ethic.

 

OWEN

We had a mentality in our family - especially from my Grandad - you turn 16, you get a job. It doesn’t matter what you do, but you work.

 

NATHAN

This started at an earlier age for Owen, at 12 or 13 he was earning £10 by spending 4 hours on a Saturday handing out flyers for a Jean company. He even tried a paper round…

 

OWEN

I tried a paper round once. And did it the wrong way round. So, instead of taking the papers to houses numbered 1-20, I went 20-1. I got a call and had to go and do it all again. 

I remember sweating, sweating a lot and just wiping my face and when I got back, noticing I had newsprint all over my face. So I got fired after day one of that.

 

NATHAN

Undeterred, Owen just wanted to work. When his national insurance number came through aged 15, he received it on a wednesday and was working at Tesco by the Monday.

 

OWEN

From the age of 15 to 21, there’s no career path it was just “let’s earn money and who’s gonna pay me more, I’m going there.” One day I was working in Subway, the next I was working as a labourer - got fired from that one -  to then working at Odeon. And that was probably all in the space of a month. It’s been known in my family that “Owen will always work.” I’ve never found it hard to find a job..sometimes find it hard to keep a job!

 

NATHAN

Maybe I find this approach fascinating because it is so alien to me. I don’t have the experience of jumping from employer to employer, so I find it difficult to imagine what that would be like.  Owen was more than comfortable with this and following what was sort of a family route, he moved into retail and started as a contract manager for cleaning buildings, and he was  in charge of about 60 buildings.  It was here that Owen realised not only how much he loved speaking with customers - but also that he was pretty good at it. This would prove more than useful in his next role as he leapt into Estate Agency. But it wasn’t selling houses that gave him a buzz…

 

OWEN

So when I got to the point where I could list - go out and value - this was straight away all I wanted to do. Forget about selling it, I wanna go sit in someone’s living room, have a really badly made cup of coffee, chat and ramble for an hour, get to know this person, this person gets to know me and then we’ll sell a house. I’d worked for corporates and they were like try and upsell this try and do “x” and if you do this formally you’ll win the instruction. 

No. Get to know someone. If someone doesn’t like you, it doesn’t matter what you point in front of them, they’re not going to buy into you. You just need to know that person likes you.

NATHAN

To illustrate this, Owen tells me about a couple he was showing around a house and he had to tell them honestly that he didn’t think the house was right for them, it wasn’t what they wanted. They agreed but called later to ask if he would value their own house, he did, and they eventually moved finding the right house. The husband then spoke to him.

 

OWEN

And he said to me “we only moved because of you, thank you. You were so honest with us at that property that we liked you for your honesty. Every time we needed you, you called us, you didn’t put any jargon on it, you were really honest. And that’s why we moved, and we just want to thank you for it.  And that, out of everything you can do in a job - that was the bit I liked.

 

NATHAN

Owen liked getting on with people so much that he ended up running the branch office. Ah, I thought, this is where we get to the crunch - having a staff, being responsible, terrible work life balance - this will be the moment that he realised he had to get out.

 

OWEN

I just loved everyone in that branch.

 

NATHAN

Sorry, what?

 

OWEN

I can’t go back to Estate Agency now because I’ll never replicate that branch. I had a really good team. Every incarnation of that team - our staff levels rarely changed but when they did we always had new people come in and they were really good.  To the point that if we go out on a leaving do, the people that left would still be coming because it’s such a decent group of people. 

 

NATHAN

Right. Ok. So. Owen liked what he was doing, was good at it, and had a great team. 

But now he and his wife had a child, they could do with more money. But despite success at his day job a pay rise wasn’t on the cards anytime soon. Reluctantly, Owen started applying for jobs and interviewing elsewhere. interviewing elsewhere. At one point, he was signed off sick with stress but kept thinking no…

 

OWEN

I really love this job. I really love where I work, I really love the people,  I’ve always said I want to stay there. 

NATHAN

So instead of a new job…a different idea…

 

OWEN

I’ll try and find that 5-9 evening job because I don’t sleep, I have all this time in the evenings where I come up with crazy ideas and never follow through. 

 

NATHAN

So this turned into his nightly routine, trying to think of ideas that could make some extra money.

 

OWEN

Most evenings, I could sit there and create a whole business as in go onto GoDaddy and find a domain name and buy it for £1, set up a website, jump on shopify, download a program, make it look fancy, go onto canva, design a logo - all within like three hours.  Go to sleep then wake and realise it’s a bad idea.

 

NATHAN

This quickly became a Groundhog Day scenario of Owen going to work, coming home, having dinner and then staying up, coming up with a scheme, doing all the prep work and then…

 

OWEN

Go to sleep and wake up and realise it’s a bad idea.

 

NATHAN

Go to work, get home, dinner, stay up late and come up with another scheme…

 

OWEN

Go to sleep and wake up and realise it’s a bad idea.

 

NATHAN

Go to work, get home, dinner, stay up late and come up with another scheme…

 

OWEN

Go to sleep and wake up and realise it’s a bad idea.

 

NATHAN

And this just carried on…

 

OWEN

Wake up and realise it’s a bad idea, wake up and realise it’s a bad idea, wake up and realise it’s a bad idea. wake up and realise it’s a bad idea FADE​
 

NATHAN

I’m hoping at least a few of you are now thinking what I was thinking. That’s a lot of bad ideas but what was the worst one? 

 

OWEN

I created a board game. Just a normal square board, like a chess board, with 5 different colours spread out, and you had to get from one side to the other by answering trivia questions. How it worked was you had 100 cards, all with different categories but with a QR code on the back. You could then determine what the colour and category was so you could change it every time. So if it was me against you, I'm not very good at trivia, but if the category was "Movies released in 2007 or 2008 or music by Taylor Swift I would get it, whereas you might want questions on education, so you could tailor the game to who was playing. 

So I sat there with tape and card and built it . The guy I used to work with has the orginal game there's like 2-3000 questions.

NATHAN

Oh so you actually made it?

 

OWEN

Made it, tried it listing it on Kickstarter. I just didn't have the money to take it further because what I needed to do was get it professionally made and get some cameras and audio and a nice place where we could sit and play it so when I put it on Kickstarter I could say this is how the game would operate and this is what I want to do with it but I didn't have the funds to do it.

NATHAN

But my favourite bad idea was…

 

OWEN

I had another idea that was Shitsubscriptions.com. At the time subscriptions were popular so my idea was to be the opposite side of that and someone could get a subscription for a friend that was like "Cloud Daily"and they would get a daily email of a cloud, or something silly like that.

 

NATHAN

I like that! That's a good idea as well! I would get that for someone where you don't know what to get them?!

NATHAN

I’m gonna cut here cos I kinda got a little carried away with this idea so let’s get back on track. 

Because there was one idea that he pursued. So what did he come up with? Well, he starts off by saying he doesn’t think it was exactly ethical…

 

OWEN

My idea was to find people that were selling stuff on ebay or Etsy and then sell them on the other platform. So I found 5 or 6 things on Etsy and put them on ebay and found 5 or 6 things on ebay and put them on Etsy. And one of the things was a mini figure - customised mini figure. So it wasn’t Lego. And they were selling it for £3. I looked at it and it was a company, it wasn’t an individual, they didn’t actually make it, it was just a product that you could buy. I listed it on ebay and sold it for £12.  So I was like, right, that I can do.

 

NATHAN

Now Owen had some questions.

 

OWEN

Where were they (the sellers) getting them (the figures) from, how does it work? That’s where I did a bit of research. Not much, because within a couple of hours I’d spent £400 on a box worth of all different characters that I knew I love because I’m a Marvel fan. I thought worse case scenario, me and my son will have these. Then started listing them on Etsy, and they were selling.

 

NATHAN

Feeling like he’s now onto something, Owen decides it’s time to invest in this new venture - the old ‘speculate to accumulate’. He spent over £1000 to a supplier to get a whole new stock of mini figures. But now he needs to sell them. And just listing online won't cut it. Because so far, his plan to make some money in his spare time has now cost him more money than he made.

 

OWEN

So I started doing car boot sales with them. First time I turned up I make like £85, then by height of summer I was making like £300 to £400 each week.

 

NATHAN

Marvel, DC, Star Wars mini figures bought in bulk and sold on. 

 

OWEN

But I would get people asking “have you got so and so?”

No.

“Have you got so and so?”

No.

 

NATHAN

He made a catalogue.

 

OWEN

I just printed load of pages and numbered them.

”Do you have x?”

No, it’s number 43, would you like to put in an order for it and I’ll get if for you next week? “Yes.” Ok, order form, fill it.

 

NATHAN

The next step: online store.

 

OWEN:

But obviously, that’s then worldwide. The first week of it going live I had people in America buying like £30-£40 worth, and I thought this is crazy. 

And then I found a supplier, I think they were in China. It was like 100 mini figures for a amount of pounds. That was a cheap price point that if I can get ust random ones, I know they can sell. So I spent…£800. And what turned up was generic - there were a few superhero ones - but a lot of generic ones, like the ones you see behind you.

NATHAN

You know those tables used for wallpapering? Imagine two of those together, covered with mini figures. It was A LOT of minifigures and they’re laid out in a colour co-ordinated system

 

OWEN

And I was like, I can’t sell them, because who wants to buy a figure of someone in farming uniform? So I was thinking I’ve gone back to square 1.

 

NATHAN

Sometimes, it feels everything is against you, and you need something, you left asking…

 

MUSIC "where’s the street wise Hercules to fight the rising odds. " (from Bonnie Tyler "Hold Out for a Hero.)

 

And then…

 

OWEN

And there was this kid, who came with his dad every week who was selling flowers. And the kid used to come over every week and ask, what figures you got…

 

Music *ooh ooh ooh ooohhhhh* 

 

His Dad got sick of giving him £2 so because I was on my own I’d used to get him to look after the stall whilst I went to get a coffee and go to the toilet. And I’d give him a free figure.

 

Music *ooh ooh ooh ooohhhhh* 

 

And he went “you know what used to be good, years ago, someone used to be here, and you could build your own figure.”

 

Music *ooh ooh ooh ooohhhhh* 

 

“There’s be heads, there would be bodies, there would be legs…” and I went, “Jack..

 

Music *ooh ooh ooh ooohhhhh* 

 

“You’re a genius. Cos I’ve got 800 of these figures that I didn’t know what to do with. So I went home, separated them all, got some fancy little bags, some platforms, and said people can build their own for £1.

 

NATHAN

It can’t be that simple, surely?

 

OWEN

And I had 6 or 7 people deep every time. I had to buy a table just for those ones. I thought this was good, but it was getting colder, car boot season would be finishing soon so I would need to move this online, and how was I going to do that? So at that point I was going around car boot sale buying figures off of people for like 20p and taking them apart. Going to charity shops and buying any figures there. Then went back to Etsy - where I was still selling my figures - and said I can do personalised mini figures. Because I couldn't list each one because you'd be picking what it was, I personalised the expense as well. So you would say I want two mini figures made, you 'd send me a description of what you wanted along with a photo. I'd build it from that info', take a photo and then send back for to say any chanegs and then once you're happy, I'll ship it out to you.

NATHAN

Upscaling online, meant upscaling at home. 

 

OWEN

I went from having a box in the bedroom that I had to hide from my son, to having like a big crate box that my son would go through saying “Can I have this one?”; to my wife saying I need you out of the living room cos you’re taking it over.

NATHAN

This garage business now had 5 or 6 orders a week for personalised minifugures at £2.99 each - people wanted figures to look like them, or - like  the one Owen showed me - a family on a ski trip. But this came with a new problem.

 

OWEN

The problem is, you’ve got print on all of them. Unless someone asks that they want a banana on their top, you’ve got to find a way of removing it. That’s either done by acetone, or a rubber, you can actually just rub it off. If it’s a cheap version you can just rub it straight off. 

 

NATHAN

I could imagine this being quite a therapeutic chore. And I could understand how both completing a personalised order and making a sale could both provide a buzz… but I did wonder how someone who had so clearly talked about how much enjoyed interacting with people and the buzz he got from his estate agency work would now cope with a solitary job, tucked away in a garage. 

 

OWEN

It’s something I love doing and technically they’re the same. Because I’m dealing with say 15-20 people at a time so I’m having 15-20 conversations - it’s just online. It’s instant messaging as opposed to face to face. There is an element of that I miss. 

 

NATHAN

Some of the lost interaction from the estate agency work was sort of replaced at the car boot sales. This is where Owen also realised what a varied mix of people would end up being his customers. 

 

OWEN 

There was people that would come back every week and sometimes they didn’t buy anything, but they’d stop and chat. I didn’t realise this was a thing where people would go to boot sales every single week. I used to have this kid who would turn up 10 minutes after I set - very enthusiastic -  and he would have £5 from his Dad and he would save it every week and spend it with me. Then there was a guy would turn up around 11am, bacon bap and a coffee, he was about 60ish, maybe 70? He would spend £30 every week on Star Wars mini figures or whatever, be there for half an hour. And then I had another old lady who used to buy for all her grandchildren. 

 

NATHAN

Right at the beginning of this venture, Owen wasn’t completely sold that this was the idea that would work for him. That was until support - financial and moral - came from a source who had been used to hearing about Owen’s ideas.

 

OWEN

I sat there with my mum, who I have to thank, because she gave me some money to really get this started. Bless her, she has had to put up with me for a good …20 years? Of me telling her really bad ideas and her having to be like “no.” And I’d say ‘well, if I just had 5 grand I could get this working” and her saying “no.”  I remember it really well, I was in the kitchen cooking a Sunday roast. “Mum, I’ve got this idea, it seems to be working online, but I need some capital, could you send me like £400.”  And she went “sure, no worries I’ll send it to you tomorrow.”

 

NATHAN

And now, with the idea developing and growing, he went back to Mum.

 

OWEN

I then went and spoke to her and said it’s going really well you will get your money back, don’t worry!  And she was like “I want to invest, I think this has got legs,” she was the one that was like “let’s take this further.” And I was really cautious. Everyone I had told every bad idea to was saying, this has got legs, you’ve got to do something with this. I said I do, but I want to take it slow. In my head I thought if we can keep doing this for year one, maybe two, and it keeps growing like this, then year three is gonna be good. 

 

NATHAN

Sensible right? I don’t know about you, but I think I must see on one social media platform or another, at least 2 different variations of get rich schemes. Most of them claim how much you can make in a month. Yet, the people I know who have their own businesses, have all taken time to become established and sustainable. Owen seemed to be taking the right patient approach, backed with the good fortune of a small family loan, and a lot of support. So, a three year plan. He started online, progressed to car boots, then had Jack the hero inspire the next phase, more sales online. Steady progress, a three year plan. Until…

 

OWEN

And then…

 

MUSIC *Jingle Bell Rock.*

 

OWEN 

Christmas happened. And I just went stupidly busy with personalised mini figures orders - like, insane. 

 

NATHAN

By insane, this means going from around a total of around 20 orders a week, to getting 20 orders A DAY. But in winter 2022, there were other challenges…

 

OWEN

And then trying to get hold of stock whilst the Royal Mail strikes were going on; plus, trying to get people’s orders to them before Christmas.

 

NATHAN

The stress of trying to overcome this and make sure people got their orders was soon joined by a new request as companies got in touch…

 

OWEN

Would you be able to print our logo, onto a brick, along with a minifigure with someone’s name on it? That’s  beyond what I can do. 

 

NATHAN

And then they said they could offer £4-6 for each one.

 

OWEN

Yes, yes I can. 

 

NATHAN

But this would also require special equipment to do the printing, and also, there was the issue of the time needed. 

 

OWEN

So that’s when I was like, right, if I say yes to it, I can’t do the job that I love.

 

NATHAN

For most people, the chance to turn a side hustle into a full time job might seem like a dream - but Owen loved his job, and this now gave him a dilemma. Instead of pricing up individual orders for £2 or even £6, he was having conversations about much larger orders…

 

OWEN

Yeah, it will cost £3000 and they were like “great, can we have 100.”

So now I’ve got to find a way to do it. So there’s a guy that I’ve now met that does UV printing, who I asked how much would you charge for printing on some pieces and he gave me a quote. It meant I’d make a very small margin but I can complete this job and I know I can do this type of job and then I can get another job, and another job.

 

NATHAN

What Owen had previously thought of as his 5-9 job - the second job he did in the evening, was rapidly becoming something that needed more of his 9-5 job hours. 

 

OWEN 

I said to my employer in December that by January, I needed to go part time or quit.

 

NATHAN

This was quite a big deal for Owen, as he’d said, he loved his job and the people he worked with, but he also loved this new venture which he’d worked hard to set up - it was becoming clear that he couldn’t do both and the anxiety about fulfilling all the orders and keeping up with everything came to a head. And this time, in the car to get some food, it was his wife who provided the pep talk after he turned to her and said…

 

OWEN

I’m stressed - this was Christmas so there were all the big orders - I’m stressed, I’m tired, I’m fed up. Because I’m at this crossroads now. I either need to stop my day job, or stop my evening job because I’ve scaled it up to a point where I can’t really scale it back and keep it enjoyable. And she was like, ‘well, quit your job. Just do it, it’s fine. I know you’ll earn money from it. Do it, I believe in you, I’ve got all the faith in the world. There’s more benefits to doing it.’

She was the one that highlighted that ‘you could take our son to school, you can pick him up from school, we could get a dog and we’ve always wanted a dog. You wouldn’t have to work weekends - apart from car boots - yes do it, we’ll be ok.’

 

NATHAN

So the slowly, slowly plan had - by necessity - sped up. To keep up with the new and larger orders, Owen bought a specialist printer. This meant he could say yes when customers got in touch and asked…

 

OWEN

I’ve got this photo, can you replicate this photo? I can put you in a green top even though you’re in a cardigan but now I can print the cardigan pattern.

 

NATHAN 

And then companies started saying…

 

OWEN

I wanna do one for my employees that is a farming shop with a round logo with their name on it. And I said if you sound me the png file of the logo I can just print that straight on the top, then I’ll just make you up 10 employees and we can put them in a nice box frame, and you can give them to your employees.

 

NATHAN

Owen shows me the box frames that he now has and I have to say, it is exactly the type of thing that I could imagine certain companies or businesses going for. I also know that people I’ve told about it since I met Owen have said “I want one”, or like my brother immediately thought of someone who would like one and placed his order. 

By the time I meet Owen, he has quit his job and gone full time with his mini figures business. He tells me about a HUGE corporate order he secured that helped make it possible.

But it’s with a different request that I can see where perhaps Owen might get the most joy from. 

 

OWEN 

There was a  woman whose son was autistic and he had 5 US Presidents in mini figure form. And he woke up and said to her “I think Santa’s bringing me the rest of the Presidents for Christmas.” And she thought “I don’t know what to do.”

She messaged me and I said “I don’t know what to do either. But. We’ll do it. We’ll work it out.”

So I found a YouTube video of someone who had done it, made a list of all the figures they did. Right, there’s 45 Presidents, they’ve already got 6, I’ll print all their names and I’ll buy anything and everything that looks like a suit because all the Presidents will wear a suit. 

So I brought all the Lord of the Rings, like Frodo cos they’d be wearing old tatty suits. 

I got all my generic ones and found any in suits and I just chucked them together and got a print out (of Presidents) and picked out blue, suit, black suit, right, find heads… and I just sat there just matching it all together. And then they all got put into their own frame with their name on a brick. I got a really sweet message on boxing day fro her saying her son said it was his pride and joy. 

NATHAN

I could see that this was a story that matches the Owen who wanted to make sure he helped people get what they really wanted. It also seems that although there had never been a specific career ambition, Owen had realised one dream.

 

OWEN

I did always have a dream of that 5-9 jon, and having a garage set up as a small little business that I could just wander into, with pocket holes that had stock in. There was an element of having a dream of doing that, I just didn’t know that it would be my full time job.

It’s now looking at what’s the next step, what’s the next step, what’s the next step, cos this is now my career and this has to work.

 

NATHAN

There’s no going back.

 

OWEN

There’s no going back.

 

NATHAN

As I say thank you and take away my own mini me figure, I can’t help but think about the young Owen, with no imagination who struggled to create worlds with toys. And how he has now created his dream job- in part by -  by fulfilling the wishes and imaginations of children. And with small thanks to the inspiration of another young boy.

 

So if you have been having ideas but then …

 

OWEN

Go to sleep and wake up and realise it’s a bad idea.

 

NATHAN

Keep having those ideas, because you never know.

 

If you would like your own mini me figure - or maybe you’d like some for your reading book club, sports team, quiz team, work colleagues, family - then Owen is generously offering a whopping 30% off to any listeners. Just go to minifiguregifts.com and use the code “Humanish.” 

 

You can find the video from Owen’s workshops on the podcast page at thehumanish.co.uk, where you can also find links to say hi on twitter, instagram, and facebook and TikTok! If you’ve enjoyed this episode it would also be super lovely if you tell a friend, share it online, or even take a minute to leave a review. 

 

On the next So You Want To Be episode …we go to prison. 

And if you want to tell me what your dream job would be, let me know.

Until next time, ta-ra, and thanks for listening. 

Mini me Nathan
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