To sum up my life as an entrepreneur, a very simple theme has followed me ever since I was 16 years old and set up my first website - I saw something that I believed I could do better.
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During my childhood, when I wanted to buy something, my parents told me I should work for it. To some this is a curse, to others a blessing. I believe this builds a strong work ethic in people. During my teenage years, I couldn’t wait to get my first job, at 15 years old, doing the local paper round. Up at five or six a.m, delivering papers on my bike, then a shower and rushing to catch the school bus. But finally I had money of my own.
At the same time, I was hugely attracted to computers and was always trying to understand them. They were fascinating to me! My school offered sixth-formers paid work at lunchtimes in the IT department, maintaining the network and supervising younger children. It taught me a lot about networking and programming and, more importantly, the stars aligned and it launched my first venture.
The admins in the IT department all played text-based online multi-player games (me included!). It’s almost like reading a book instead of watching a film, except with computer games. There was one in particular I loved - it was all about politics and running your own country by getting elected as leader by other players.
"Everyone in my year was going to banks to work, so I assumed I should be doing the same thing. It offered ridiculous pay in nice offices"
I really wanted to create my own better version of this game - it could be so successful! I tried to persuade my best friend to build a game together but he didn’t really want to do it. So I thought, screw this, I’ll do it myself! I sat down and learned programming, while building the game of my dreams. Little did I know that this game was the first stepping stone in my life as an entrepreneur...
The game I built became quite successful. At its peak, it was getting 1,000 users per day and brought me some nice income at the time (£500-£1,000 per month). It also taught me a lot about running a community, and customer service.
To be honest, I was terrible at what I was doing, but I think it’s rare that a business founder is good at it. I was slow and lazy, as dealing with individual customers is a huge waste of time when you can be working on the next feature. Of course, now I know that customer service is extremely important, it’s just that it needs to be delegated.
My conscious journey towards becoming an entrepreneur began when I got my first real job while at university, over the summer, working for an internet start-up. I would never have landed the job without my previous experience with my online game: I proudly showed it off during the interview and the company loved it. In fact, they were so impressed that I managed to negotiate my salary from £500 per month to £1,300. I was already bold back then!
Looking back, however, it almost went all wrong as I learned how a university education might restrict entrepreneurs in fulfilling their potential. Before I applied for the job at the start-up, I also applied for a job at an investment bank. Everyone in my year was going to banks to work, so I assumed I should be doing the same thing. It offered ridiculous pay in nice offices.
Zaborszky learned fast there are worse things than being turned down for a job in the City
But, for some amazing reason, the bank didn’t like me at the interview and I wasn’t offered a summer job. I really am thankful for this now, although it felt like the whole world had rejected me at the time and that I was a failure compared with my peers, when ultimately, it forced me not to join the herd.
Over the three months at the internet startup, all I felt was frustration at being told what to do by other people, about things that I could have very well done myself. Why would I do work for someone else when I can do it for myself? Already, while there, I started working on my own business.
And here, the main theme of my life repeated itself: I saw an Independent Financial Adviser directory website at the startup and thought, hey, I can do this better, or do it with a solicitor directory. So I did, and through the third year of university this business was bringing in £1,300 per month in advertising. Very nice for a university student in London!
"I didn’t want to build a virtual world – my real passion was building a solid business"
At this point, I made another big mistake, going travelling over the summer and not caring about the website I’d built. The server crashed, I had no backups, and had to rebuild the site from scratch. By the time I did that, it had failed.
Thankfully, the startup I had worked for loved the fact that I was building my own businesses and wanted a piece of the pie. It’s a lot easier impressing people when you’ve put something on the table already. They offered to invest in me to build another text-based game.
I accepted, and spent three years building game-related websites, as well as a complete new game. While this business was moderately successful, I got bored with it and realised gaming and programming wasn’t for me as an entrepreneur.
I didn’t want to build a virtual world – my real passion was building a solid business. Also, the gaming industry needed too much capital to be successful, and I didn’t have that. So, this time, I consciously decided to find a business that I could do better.
After months of trawling the internet I found a niche price comparison and review website for certain types of software. I realised this price comparison model was really good, it just wasn’t done well (yet!). People absolutely need high quality reviews to help them make a choice about what they will buy, but the review websites in this niche were terrible.
So, once again, I set out to build my own better business. This time there wasn’t much programming and computing to do, it was all about building a business.
The software I reviewed was security and privacy related, and I launched the website three months before Edward Snowden revealed everything about the NSA. Talk about good timing. My website sky-rocketed and has grown and grown ever since.