At 19-years-old it would be fair to say that Ben Francis did not exhibit any extraordinary skill that would make it obvious to those around him that he would go on to be a self-made multi-millionaire and founder of international sportswear company Gymshark, just a few years later.
In fact, in 2012, the future CEO was more of a typical teenager growing up in Birmingham, UK. Living the student lifestyle of lectures in the morning, working out in the afternoon and hitting the town with his gym buddies for student nights out.
However, there was one big thing that the fitness fanatic attributed to his drive and ambition in the early days, something that separated him from his peers…he loved to build things. It might be strange to hear that someone who dropped out of University loves to ‘build things’ but time and time again we see successful individuals dropping everything in their lives to pursue something they are passionate about.
Gymshark was by no means Francis’ first attempt at starting a business and as with many successful entrepreneurs’ story there were a few failures or in his case a few mini-successes.
He started out as a building websites from his bedroom in his parents house. One of his first ideas were selling custom car registration plates. He would buy the registration plates then sell them online via the website he had created – not bad for a self-taught teenager with no business experience.
The enterprising youngster didn’t stop there, in fact his first small success spurred him on to further develop his computer programming skills.
It’s the late 2000s and the iPhone is all the rage. Apple’s new innovation has caused an earthquake in the mobile phone industry and the invention of the Appstore meant developers could get in on the action.
That is exactly what the self-taught developer did. He immersed himself into learning to code and created an astounding 4 apps from scratch and put them on the App store. Two of the apps were of a fitness nature and whilst they were not the most advanced apps ever designed, it was a massive achievement for the young Francis who know the internet would offer him the best possible chances of success in the future.
The Fitness niche would dominate the teenager’s new ideas as he even created a health based social network to rival the that of Facebook called Two-Tone.com. With only several thousand members (which is still another great achievement) and realising that competing with the Silicon Valley giants on this one was too hard he reluctantly took the site down.
Gymshark Initial Success
At this stage the high schooler had already had a number of small successes which had seen him create some of the best performing Apps in the UK. It would have been very easy for Francis to land a job building Apps and undoubtedly go on to have a successful career in the industry.
However, it is at this point where the true nature of the individual is revealed.
Francis had a burning vision of his future, managing an online company. It was this vision that separated him from the being a talented hustler who could put in a little effort to someone who was capable of achieving great things.
By the time he was 19 he had more experience of producing a product and making money from it than most and it was this experience that allowed him to quickly transfer his skills to a new online project.
It was 2012 and Gymshark was born.
With no real upfront investment to put into his new idea Francis had to get creative as to how he was going to generate cash. He decided that the best way was to list as many fitness supplements as he could on his site and when someone purchased the item he would buy directly from a supplier after adding a profit margin.
In other words he started drop shipping.
The Aston University dropout actually believes it was this creativity and ability to take calculated risks is why the Gymshark brand took off as they were able to harness the power of social media more effectively than established sportswear giants.
The Game Changer
Drop shipping proved to be the means to the end that Francis needed to get started money rolling through the door and allow the company to grow.
Rather than spending the money he was making on frivolous short term items like a new Rolex or car (a rookie mistake) he would reinvest all his profits into the site and learnt how to improve its search engine ranking in order to generate more sales.
As his knowledge of the online marketing space grew he started to realise that the drop shipping model wasn’t going to be sustainable over the long term and that the ultimate way to increase the site’s profitability was to create his own product. Naturally given the niche he had chosen of health and fitness, sportswear became a good fit (pardon the pun).
This was not an easy switch – to go from selling someone else’s product online to selling your own. Not only do you have to source the materials you also have to create a unique product that people actually want to purchase whereas before you knew that the products would sell.
For the next few years the 19-year-old Francis worked around the clock producing Gymshark clothing. He bought a sewing machine and turned his hand to sewing and printing in order to provide custom clothing to his customers. He became obsessed about producing a top quality product and his customers would love.
Tip: Create a product that you yourself would purchase – only then will people understand your passion and buy into your brand. Don’t produce something you wouldn’t buy – your customers will be able to tell.
A comment has to be made here at this youngster’s attitude and desire to be successful. As previously mentioned in this article there was nothing about Ben Francis that was exceptional from the outset but ask yourself this – would you be willing to learn how to create a website then learn how to sew and print custom products?
It is this hard work that separates most and the willingness to do anything in order to achieve results.
Fastest Growing Company In the UK
The innovation that the university dropout showed in starting the site and creating a new product permeated throughout the company as it started to grow.
One of the biggest innovations it was quick to develop (and do it better than the big boys) was to leverage the power of social media.
Francis said that he became ‘obsessed’ watching ‘influencers’ online and said that it was a natural step to send them their product. He didn’t know it at the time but he was using ‘influencer marketing’ before it became a thing.
This saw sales of the product skyrocket as the company has gone on to become an international giant and is one of the biggest players in the sportswear industry – a feat that many would not have expected to achieve given the dominance of established sports companies.
Today Gymshark is worth close to $500million and given that it all started in 2012 Francis is evidence that with the right mindset and innovation you can achieve great things in a short space of time.