Charlie Mullins: ‘I don’t like banks – they’re crooks in suits’

 James Sinclair is the founder of Partyman.

James Sinclair is the founder of Partyman.

James Sinclair may now be better known for his entertainment business, Partyman, and for founding the Entrepreneur’s Network to connect other start-up founders, but he started out like many others; with no start-up capital at the age of 14. Sinclair’s first stint was as a children’s entertainer in the back bedroom of his grandmother’s house. Since then, the 30-year-old self-made man has turned a one-man business to a thriving company, employing around 350 people and turning over roughly £10 million a year.

Partyman now has five indoor play centres, four day nurseries, three ‘laser kombat’ arenas, a one-stop online Partyman shop and, most recently, a children’s farm. Here he speaks to GrowthBusiness on the ups and downs of starting up. 

Name:  James Sinclair
Business: Partyman
Location:  Essex
Date launched: 2001
Number of employees:  350
Turnover (p.a.): £10 million

Where did the idea for your business come from?

I started my first business when I was 14 working as children’s party entertainer and have grown the business from the bottom up from that point. That original concept is entwined through all the businesses I now own.

How did you know there was a market for it?

I could see right from when I started that there was an ever increasing rise in the market for family entertainment so although I diversified into different venues and types of business as we grew, I stayed within the family entertainment sector.  As our reputation  has grown, people have come to associate our Partyman brand with quality entertainment and good venues.

How did you raise funding, and why?

The Partyman business is very capital intensive so we have used all sorts of tactics to raise finance including equity finance, lease finance, crowdfunding, bank finance.  We have raised £6 million to help the business through its growth phases since we began.

Describe your business model in brief.

I am continually looking to grow the Partyman brand and a large part of our growth and success to date has been achieved by buying ailing businesses in our sector and turning them into successful, profitable parts of the Partyman family.

Your lowest point was…

Raising finance is always a challenge and can be very stressful for any business, particularly in the early days.  You know that your business must make a certain number of sales to meet overheads so there is always pressure to do that.  Growing a business is a challenge and you’ve got to think to the future as well as the present so one of the  biggest challenges is not to get lost in short term survival, but keep an eye on the bigger growth picture at the same time.

Overall the business highs definitely outweigh the lows.

Your highest point was…

There are so many of them!  Some of my best highs are being able to work with teams and seeing them develop and grow and end up leading part of your company.    Nothing is more rewarding than seeing people that you have mentored and develop running a part of your business better than you can.  It is so rewarding – delegation is an essential  part of being an entrepreneur.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?

It is important to understand the fundamental conundrum of entrepreneurship which is to be able to juggle short term and long term objectives at the same time.  Good quality management and leadership is so important for your team.    If you are managing the business, you need to be on top of your figures and understand the day to day running of the operation.  However, you need also be looking at the bigger picture and where you want to be next month, next year or longer.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

I want Partyman to be a national brand, seriously building a revolution in the entertainment sector with a brand that families absolutely love because it guarantees a good experience

If you weren’t an entrepreneur, you would be…

I would probably be running a school or a charity.  Making a difference using a unique approach and trying to change the world in one way or another.  It just so happens I have ended up trying to do that in business rather than in another walk of life.

If you could go back in time, would you do anything differently?

No I wouldn’t.  All the mistakes I’ve made in business, I’ve learned from and I keep them stored away in my head so that I can draw on them should that situation occur again.

What is your philosophy on business or life, in a nutshell?

Good things happen to good people.  Try to remember that within a fortnight, most stressful things resolve themselves one way or another so my philosophy is to keep going, don’t give up and remember that business is a marathon not a sprint.  Instant gratification doesn’t happen in business – you need to be in it for the long haul and be prepared for some tough times as well as lots of good times.

James Sinclair’s new book “The Experience Business” is now available to buy on Amazon for £11.99.

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