The serial entrepreneur/angel investor came across the business opportunity – a rail version of air travel ticket booking sites – 18 months ago. He was immediately charmed by its potential –?the market has high barriers to entry and few competitors: “This is a £6bn market that is forecast to grow at 10 per cent a year, this is the perfect opportunity. The rising cost of motoring and traffic congestion mean that more people will use trains,” says Wells, who is sitting in a lounge in the rather imposing Institute of Directors building in Pall Mall.
After he became “disillusioned” with a career in the corporate IT world, he began to search for small businesses with real growth opportunities. Mytrainticket.co.uk, which was started by Assertis, a web design company, is his fourth investment. He led a small group of private investors to help with financing and management support to get the project off the ground. The website went live in April and expectations are that it will turn a profit in the first quarter of 2011.
“The rail industry has real potential to replicate the success of online sales of air tickets.” And indeed, the growth potential does look good. Around 15 per cent of all rail tickets are purchased online, which compares with over 50 per cent in the air travel sector. So far the project has cost £2.5m, mostly on development costs and obtaining a rail retail licence. After a significant publicity drive, the site has already received over 1.2m visitors.
Wells is difficult to categorise – he is part growth capital partner and part entrepreneur. He likens himself to a “company doctor”, with the skills to develop small businesses into medium-sized ones. For example, he worked with a software house specialising in healthcare IT, which grew from six staff members to more than 200 and later listed on Aim in 2005.
He is also a co-founder of Stage on Screen (www.stageonscreen.com), a company that produces and films live plays that feature on academic syllabi. He founded the company two years ago with a small group of investors, most of whom have children of school age. The most recent Stage on Screen productions were Doctor Faustus and Volpone and the company plans to film two to four plays a year. Stage on Screen was another gap in the market that Wells jumped at: “There is a constant stream of demand since the examination boards regularly rotate the same plays.” So far, £1m has been invested in the venture.
Wells is in this for the long-haul, and knows it takes time to build an overnight success story: “People want to see results early on, but building a successful business is not done overnight.”
CV | ROBIN WELLS
Lives: Kent, with his wife and children. He also runs Mytrainticket.co.uk from the county.
Studied: Medieval archeology at University College London
Car you drive: Jaguar XKR
Reading: The Trouble with Markets, Roger Bootle