At 18 years-old, living in a car and having dropped out of school at 14, the world must have looked a pretty bleak place for Lyndon Wood. Today, with a business empire worth an estimated $50 million, he’s about to embark on his $1 billion business adventure. Things must look a little different.
Having hit life’s bottom rung as a teenager, Wood managed to land himself a job in insurance on a commission-only basis. After just nine months in the industry and not yet 20, he founded constructaquote.com, a quote-and-buy website for UK business insurance. Today the business has sales of more than $60 million and it spends more on Google Adwords in a month than most businesses make in a year.
Wood’s approach to business, and the world, is unique. He is a strict vegetarian (“I don’t really like meat”) and can survive on just a couple of hours sleep a night. When I meet him for lunch near his Vauxhall crash pad he’s already been up for 10 hours, having slept between midnight and 2.30am.
He drives an orange Bentley GT, which he uses for the three-hour commute from Wales to London where he splits his working week, and once bought a white Ford Mustang with bonnet stripes to do the Cannonball Run across Europe.
“I have a nice car to reward myself and just in case I end up sleeping in one again, it had just as well be a good one,” he says.
At the end of the day, it’s a numbers game
Today he has spent the time between waking up and meeting me creating a marketing deck for his latest venture, which he describes as the “big one”: a social media website for people in business, which he believes will one day be valued at more than $1 billion.
The website, currently in beta mode, is sunzu.com, named after the legendary Chinese general and warrior-philosopher (deliberately misspelled).
“There are a lot of social networks dedicated to entrepreneurs and people in business,” he explains. “But they have all focused on one thing and are missing the point of how the internet can bring people together to build their profile, make referrals and do deals.”
For Wood, who already employs 150 workers in Caerphilly in the Welsh valleys, there is an opportunity to create an online hub where people can do real business and even make money directly through growing their portfolios and interacting with others.
People who create a ‘BizCard’ on the website will be encouraged to publish their own content and build a following. What separates this offering from LinkedIn, for example, is that SunZu pays members 50% of the advertising revenue they generate.
The site is loaded with features and Wood has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars getting the look, feel and functionality just right. He admits some of that money was blown on three web agencies who all demanded money for services, but none of which delivered.
“I’m using an in-house team of six senior developers,” he says. “I tried the agency route three times and got stung three times: once because the company went bust and took $100,000 of my money with it, one that sat on their hands and did nothing, whilst leading me a merry dance and taking monthly payments, and a third that charged me $20,000 for a week-long development meeting with people who they then shifted off my project, rendering the whole exercise pointless.”
The in-house route worked better and Wood is ready to expand his billion-dollar project with a beta site that just needs a few final tweaks. He has an ambitious marketing strategy incorporating sophisticated plays in social media and email as well as on-and-offline PR.
He has a clear blueprint for building the business too. Five hundred-thousand members values the it at around $30m, he calculates, at which point he will sell a percentage to investors in a series B round. Using that investment to grow the member base, SunZu will hit another investment milestone, at which point it will pitch for series A investment before using that money to shoot for the moon.
With an existing business portfolio in the tens of millions Wood is not in it for the money, despite his dollar-sign target. He is an ostentatious character, but apart from a few smart cars, his spending is comparatively conservative.
He just likes winning; and in business the value of the deal is an indicator of the size of the win. To quote Sean Parker (as played by Justin Timberlake in the film The Social Network): “A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars”.
SunZu’s new interface will go live in January 2015.
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