Dominic McVey was the youngest self-made millionaire at the age of 15 when he started importing micro-scooters into the UK from the U.S when he was only 13. We spoke to him about what motivated him to become an entrepreneur, and what he has learned along the way...
“If you want the lights on, you’ve got to get up and flick the switch yourself.”
How would you describe your current role?
I don’t feel like I have a specific title, it’s a difficult one, as I sit on the board of several organisations. Sometimes it feels like, “Which one do I pick today?"
I just introduce myself as Dominic McVey!
I’m also a Professor in Business, Ethics, & Entrepreneurship at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. It’s a big honour and a huge challenge.
How did you start out?
I was bored at school and travelled a lot which gave me lots of ideas and opportunities. I travelled because my father was a musician with the Royal Shakespeare Company - to countries like Japan, Australia and the U.S.
28 years on, the world is a lot more connected, people are travelling and we can more easily document it. People are starting to see more of the world without having to get on a plane. I was seeing cultures and people applying themselves in different ways. I had a very inquisitive mind from a young age and was always thinking about what I wanted to do. I was fortunate to have that vision.
There was a period of time where I wanted to be a marine biologist as I loved sharks, but I soon got over that. I also wanted to be a Viking at one point!
While flying to these different countries, often alone, there would be an overhead projector to watch films on long-haul flights in economy class. I discovered that there was such a thing as first class, where people would have their own beds and TVs, and I was stuck back there trying to see an overhead projector. It inspired me to think about what money could bring. Why are they in bed and I’m not?
So I was always looking for ideas and could never quite nail one down. When I was 13 or 14, I discovered micro scooters. One of the things I’d always wanted was a driver’s license from the age of about 9. So I think I got really interested in these fold-up motorised scooters as it was a mode of transport. It basically meant freedom for me. But I couldn’t afford one.
I convinced the manufacturer to give me one for free. I told him that if he gives me one, I can show everyone and then they’ll buy one too. He said if I buy five, he’d give me one for free - and he gave me distributor pricing.
You can be anyone you want to be on the internet. No one knew that I was 13 years old in my bedroom in Leytonstone with my cat, Felix. I knew how to put a front on and dress it up. I’d read the Financial Times! I understood the language and lingo. I eventually went and met the guy in Arizona (with my Mum); he basically fell off his chair when he met me at the airport.
I used to ring up companies when I was at school, and they’d say where are you from?
I obviously wasn’t from a company… because I was at school… and I’d say, “Oh, I’m from Leytonstone”.
People would just laugh and then not ask any more questions.
I was eventually involved in the sale of millions of the scooters within two years as I was selling razor scooters before anyone else had them. After the scooters went massive, other people started selling them and loads of fakes started appearing on the market. I got bored quickly, so I moved on. I tried to do about 101 other things, some with success, failure and just for fun.
So what are you doing now?
In the last eight years, I’ve been building a multinational organisation from a tiny little business to what’s now 200 million in revenue, 20,000 employees - manufacturing garments for companies like Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger.
In the garment industry, you work in some very poor countries. I felt it was my mission to ensure that the communities we established ourselves in - including Ethiopia, Kenya, Bangladesh, Mexico, Sri Lanka - were treated with care and respect.
I provided everything - childcare facilities, food, financial education, digital education, computer skills, sexual health clinics, immunisation programmes, you name it.
It was recognised by a number of heads of state from British Prime Ministers to the Kenyan President.
From there I’ve moved into pro bono philanthropy, and am on the boards for a number of organisations that are focused on international development, computer literacy, geopolitics, global diplomacy, and trade for development. I work with poor countries and try to help them develop their economies effectively. I get involved where I can make a difference, either positively or drawing attention to those who are making a detrimental difference, or taking advantage of vulnerable groups.
What would you do differently if you could go back in time?
I regret dropping Latin at school! I wish I’d picked up more language skills as I definitely wouldn’t call myself a linguist. I gave up with education pretty quickly.
We’re very lucky in the UK that almost everyone speaks English globally. It’s never been a challenge not speaking local languages, but I think it would definitely be a benefit.
What’s your advice for any budding entrepreneurs out there?
One of the things I encourage people to do is actually avoid jumping on an idea.
Sometimes, all of a sudden a lightbulb goes off and you want to be an entrepreneur...which is great, but what are you going to be an entrepreneur in?
We’re in such a mindset of ‘get it done today, get rich tomorrow’, I think people do jump too quickly onto an idea before really thinking it through, asking the right questions or listening to the right people. It’s much better to actually experience businesses and real life as much as possible to see the gaps.
Not every industry is going to have a gap or an opportunity. When there’s a difficulty, that’s the opportunity. When there’s a challenge, or my life is being made harder or more expensive, there’s a better way to do it and that’s where the entrepreneurial spirit needs to kick in.
But if you haven’t had the experience within a business, it’s like jumping out of a plane while trying to build the parachute. In hindsight, it’s better to jump out of the plane with a parachute and know where you’re going to land! That can be done through preparation and experience.
So, don’t jump on the first idea you come across. Immerse yourself in the industry to see the opportunities and gaps.
So, in a nutshell, don't jump on the first idea you come to, and actually immerse yourself in the industry to see the opportunities and gaps. And whilst you have that time to assess the opportunity, gaps, learn about running a business, because the idea is very different from the the nuts and bolts of an organisation.
What would you say your proudest moment is?
I guess I’m yet to achieve my proudest moment. But it’s been a huge privilege to help the most vulnerable women in society who have been victims of domestic abuse to get back on their feet and into education, into jobs and build careers in parts of the world that have been forgotten about.
Being able to help people in such a way is just fantastic.
Do you have a goal for the future?
I’ve got some ideas for kids books around business and entrepreneurship, maybe called “How to make a million by 14 and a thousand other crazy ideas.” I’m probably the only person who can write about that!
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