Alex Lovén, the founder and chief executive of Net World Sports, made his first £1m at just 22 years old.
Getting in on internet sales early was the key to his success – that, and the dedication of his parents, he told Telegraph Money.
“My mum was a teacher, my dad restored antique beds. It was a normal but incredibly loving and supportive environment to grow up in,” said Mr Lovén, now 35.
“I’m dyslexic and was quite shy as a kid, so my mum didn’t want me to go to the local state school. My parents scraped together every penny they had to send me to private school.
“I was the poorest person there,” he recalled. “Our summer holidays were always camping in Wales, instead of going abroad, and I went to school wearing a suit from Oxfam, which is something the other kids didn’t understand at all.
“I’d often hear my parents say that things were ‘a bit tight this month’, so it dawned on me that I wanted to make things a bit less tight.
“When I was 13 I started selling cricket bats that I bought direct from manufacturers – they were £6 plus postage, but being sold elsewhere for £60, so I bought six of them and sold them at school for £50,” Mr Lovén explained.
“I got into a bit of trouble with the headteacher over that, because we weren’t meant to sell things for more than a tenner, but some rules are made to be broken.”
After finishing his GCSEs, Mr Lovén moved to a college and got a part-time job at a builders’ merchants. “For me, that was infinitely more beneficial than going to lessons, because at no point in your education are you actually taught how to interact with the public,” he said.
“I learned how to sell, organise and solve problems. They would pay me double to skip college when it was busy. Over time I went from being the Saturday lad to having quite a lot of responsibility, which brought me a lot of confidence given I was only 17.”
Mr Lovén used the money from his part-time job to buy his first container of sports products, which he then sold online at a profit, beginning a business that would become Net World Sports.
The company was one of the first online retailers of its kind, and now supplies equipment to Fifa and Uefa.
Mr Lovén has even been awarded an MBE for his services to the economy, and Net World Sports received a visit from the Prime Minister in July. None of this success would have been possible without Mr Lovén’s parents, however.
“That first container actually got held in customs, because I had no money to pay the VAT on it,” he explained. “I asked the bank for a loan, and they told me to do a business plan, which I spent ages on – but they took one look at it and laughed when I brought it in.
“In the end my mum went in and asked for a loan to buy a car. She gave that money straight to me.
“Around the same time, my dad had been made redundant, so he effectively became my first employee. He packed all the orders and helped unload containers, while I handled online bookings.
“When that first container came in, he built a shed in the garden to work from. We quickly outgrew that, and my parents moved somewhere bigger that had a barn. Eventually, we rented some farm sheds, before we got our big warehouse in Wrexham.
“We got to a million in turnover with just myself and my dad, which is pretty good going for two people. That was in 2010. It was incredibly hard work every moment of the day,” Mr Lovén recalled.
To this day Net World Sports is a family venture, with Mr Lovén’s mother – formerly a senior lecturer at a university – having left her job to look after the company’s books.
“We made our first million in profit in 2013, but that was just a blip on the radar for me, because we reinvested everything back into the business. This financial year we will have turned over £75m, and we now employ 275 people. We’ve always punched above our weight, I’d say.”
Net World Sports may one day employ three generations of the Lovén family – though Alex Lovén, who is expecting his first child, insists that his own children would have to start from the bottom if they were to join his company.
“I’m going to be a father any week now, and I’d like to think that I’m quite good at nurturing people,” he said. “If I could just bottle whatever my parents’ magic ingredient was for raising me, that would be perfect.”
What was your first job, and how much were you earning?
My first ever job was the one at the builders’ merchants. I was making £4.50 an hour, and my day would start at 7.30am, and finish at 5.30pm. That was a shock to the system, as I’ve never been an early riser.
What does a day in your life look like?
My routine is about to change hugely I expect, but at the moment I’m still not a morning person. I don’t sleep very well, so I make sure I don’t have any meetings or important commitments until the afternoon, in case I need to catch up on rest.
Most days I go to Net World to see what’s going on, as I’m still very hands-on, and my focus is on driving the business forward and developing our staff.
I get asked to do all kinds of business breakfasts, and speaking engagements, but I feel my time is best spent with my team, so I’m quite ruthless when it comes to saying no.
What is your top tip for anyone who wants to make their first million?
Be prepared to work very, very hard, and take a lot of risks.
It is crucial to be bold, and it’s so important to listen to your gut – and as an added bonus, having supportive parents helps an awful lot.