Meet Scott Saunders, Founder and CEO of online comparison site, Payroll Supermarket and Co-organizer of the UK’s largest innovation and technology events, The British Invention Show and Awards. Scott shot into the public eye when he rose above 20,000 applicants and secured his place on the BBC’s show, The Apprentice. During the 9th episode of series 11 Scott stunned the nation by walking out of Sir Alan Sugar’s boardroom on his own terms, being neither hired nor fired. Rebelhead Entrepreneurs spoke to Scott to find out how he got to where he is today and what we can learn from his journey.
When people talk about business they don’t talk about their bad times, but it must be done because business is not easy.
Getting to know Scott
Can you describe the journey that led to where you are now?
Entrepreneurship has been flowing through my veins since the age of 6 when I started a car washing business and did lots of gardening for people to make money. I was learning lessons as soon as I started. When I did my first gardening job I failed to agree a price at the beginning of the task and instead slaved away in the blazing heat for two hours doing the best work possible in the hope I would be well rewarded for my efforts. Of course, I wasn’t – I got 50p for that job and from then on never did another job without agreeing the price first.
I also have a very creative side which flourished as I was growing up; I trained in Cambridge for 10 years as a dancer, covering a range of styles including ballet, contemporary and street. I was offered a scholarship by the time I hit college but turned it down to pursue my entrepreneurial flair and I graduated from Birmingham City University in 2010 with a degree in Product Design. Upon entering the working world, I transitioned into Sales. Initially I suffered the gruesome 200 calls a day in a telesales role which I’m sure many sales people will be familiar with, but once I worked my way up into more senior roles I couldn’t get enough of the personable side of sales: getting to know customers, making them laugh and creatively closing sales in my own way. Through my dancing and creativity I’ve learnt to be both disciplined and free thinking.
What values were instilled in you when growing up?
My Mum and Dad have hugely influenced the person I’ve become. My Mum was always big on being polite, considerate and having manners. It’s really important to have respect for everyone; from the people you do business with to the person behind the counter in a shop. I was also taught to be the best that I can be in anything that I do. Whatever it is I’m doing, I have to try my hardest at it. My Dad is very much a business man and he taught me the fundamental aspects of business from a very young age. He would continuously push me to do things that were outside my comfort zone, which I still do now.
What was your perception of money growing up?
I didn’t come from a lot of money; my Mum and Dad separated when I was young and I lived on a council estate for the first part of my life. I understood that money is something that provides opportunities you otherwise wouldn’t have. How you view money depends on how much respect you have for it. I view money as very important because I’ve witnessed both the struggles and the benefits that come with it. When I was younger all I knew was that I wanted to be a millionaire; it wasn’t until I hit my 20s that I discovered what it takes to become someone of that calibre.
What triggered you to pursue Payroll Supermarket?
I was already working within the industry, but noticed a gap when I was trying to make price comparisons for contractors. I then knew I wanted to start a business which would fill that gap, but it was important for me to understand the product so I spent a year and a half learning how to develop the website alongside my normal job. The very first step to starting anything is always the hardest, yet the most crucial. My first step was buying a book to write down all of my ideas. I began with what I wanted to achieve and then brainstormed around that to figure out what was needed to make it happen. I then wrote priority numbers of what I needed to do first to get the ball rolling. I bought the domain, designed the logo, built the website and then got my first referral after secretly launching the site to check that it was functional.
When you write things on paper your mind works harder and it increases your motivation to get things done. I used to keep a pen and a piece of paper by my bedside table; if I ever did think of anything when drifting off to sleep I could always jot it down. It’s easy to forget great ideas but when they do come along, be sure to make the most of them. So much of entrepreneurship is simply about seeing your ideas through. It’s also nice to look back in future years and see how far you’ve taken your idea.
At what point did you decide to work on the idea full time?
It was when I got onto The Apprentice. It provided the perfect opportunity to transition out of my full time job and into the role of CEO after the show. Months before this, I said to my partner (at the time) that the job I was in would be the last job I’ll ever have, and I meant it. I was very ready to move on; I felt I’d learnt everything I needed to know and The Apprentice pushed me off the cliff and allowed me to grow wings to reach entrepreneurship. I decided that was my time to fly.
Soon after The Apprentice, I was actually approached by a recruiter for a job that would pay 100k which would have been amazing. They offered the whole package, car included. My partner at the time encouraged me to take it, but I felt so strongly about my idea that I rejected the offer and, believe it or not, it felt really good. It made it official. Moments later I changed my LinkedIn profile to be CEO of Payroll Supermarket; this was a huge step since it was essentially telling the world ‘this is it, this is who I am now’. It was a scary yet exhilarating moment.
What barriers did you break down to make Payroll Supermarket a reality?
When people talk about business they don’t talk about their bad times, but it must be done because business is not easy. You have to put in the hours but if you love what you’re doing within those hours, you don’t feel the time passing by. It can be lonely starting up a company; often there’s not someone there to guide you until you start making money and start to be somebody. Those times aren’t to be underestimated; you need to always live by small goals to try and achieve every day. Look at what motivates you to get sh*t done and look at how far you’ve come. Keep pursuing the idea because when you look back it will seem like a small sacrifice you made for a short amount of time.
So in terms of barriers, it has been very tough. My life now is completely different compared to where it was a few years ago. I’ve totally transformed but the changes I’ve gone through have allowed me to take the route which I believed was best for me. I used to live very comfortably in a big house with a nice salary and a dog, yet I never really liked the comfortability of it all; I can now proudly say I’m the designer of my destiny.
What skills have you adopted that can be attributed to your success?
The first skill was developing the right mind-set, which takes a lot of training. If you have a bad day, you have to know how to start a new one with a different approach. The second skill was being organized. Even if this isn’t a natural skill, you have to be organized to the extent that you are in control of your days if you are going to be CEO of a company. You have to know what it happening at all times. The third skill was making sure I develop healthy habits including exercise, listening to music and taking breaks. You can work hard but you have to be cautious of burn out.
Just to dig deeper with my mind-set, it’s important to note that I grew up with the common expectation that you should go and get a job with a company and work your way up, rather than follow your own direction. People get taught this for years and years and I don’t necessarily think it’s correct for this to be taught. Breaking free of that lesson takes a lot of will power and determination but it is so worth it once you’ve hacked how to get started and deliver your vision.
What would be your top productivity hacks?
My no.1 hack would be effective use of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools. Organizing yourself and your customers through a system like this is incredibly productive. You can colour code your way through the system and keep track of all communications and progress.
My second hack would be using excel spreadsheets. Yes, they are basic, but they are also very fast and a lot of the time there’s no need to overdo it by using anything other than a simple spreadsheet. As with anything, the more you do it the better you become.
My third hack would be living through a calendar. I’ve actually been using the old-school paper diary for the past few years; reason being that it cements any arrangement more firmly in your memory if you write it down. After time, you find yourself remembering the small details: locations, post codes and numbers.
Rebel Wrap Up
If you could go back to any point in your life, what moment would it be and what would you tell yourself?
I would go back to the moment I decided to leave The Apprentice. I wouldn’t tell myself not to leave as I still believe it was the right decision, but I would tell myself to leave more graciously than I did. The one move I wasn’t fond of was failing to shake Sir Alan Sugar’s hand. Looking back, it was quite rude. We live in a society when it is courtesy to shake someone’s hand after doing business and I should have been polite enough to do that, even in the heat of the moment. I only decided I was going to leave during the 15 minutes spent in the boardroom in episode 9; I had a gut instinct that I didn’t want to be there anymore. I wasn’t necessarily able to focus on my strengths and areas of expertise in the show and since I no longer considered it my domain I didn’t want to waste anyone else’s time. As with anything I look back on, I don’t necessarily regret it. All you can do is learn from moments like this and do better next time. There’s no need to be negative, your life can do without that. Every experience you have can be a good thing; you just need to take what you can from it.
I would also take myself back to when I was 16 years old and tell myself: ‘from this moment on, make sure you put away 25% of what you earn and don’t touch it’. You don’t realise how important this is and you also won’t believe how fast the time goes. It’s crucial. Make sure you do it too.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Going against the status quo. It’s about having an idea and taking the steps required to make it happen. It’s about stepping outside your comfort zone and making what you can with what you have. People will always tell entrepreneurs ‘this is a bad idea. Don’t do it. Stick to your day job.’ Even the leaders of huge global companies were told this at the beginning. No one wants to know so it’s hard, yet it’s funny because the people who tell you ‘no’ will be the people who turn around and say, ‘wow, I want to know how you did that.’