How Jacyn Heavens hit rock bottom – twice – before building his global Epos empire…
Many entrepreneurs have poured blood, sweat and tears into their businesses. But how much do you know about your client’s journey? Isn’t it time to find out more?
Highly successful founders have mythical status amongst professionals. So much so that it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that they have always had the world at their feet. But behind the front you’ll often find someone who has been on a tortuous journey packed with brutal knocks. As a professional adviser, it’s important to know that journey. Understand it well and there’s a better chance of being invited on board for the next leg of the voyage.
One entrepreneur with a stunning story to tell is 33-year-old Jacyn Heavens, owner, founder and CEO of Epos Now, a fast-growing global electronic point-of-sale company. From humble beginnings in East Anglia, Jacyn now employs around 290 people. He has built up a £25 million-turnover business, and is opening offices all over the world: his US arm achieved 30% growth in October 2016 alone. Amazingly, he has never taken any venture capital.
So how did he get there?
Jacyn, an ex-mobile phone salesman from Norwich, left education with a few GCSEs and an ‘AVCE’ in IT (“no-one’s ever heard of it,” he grins.) His crazy tale is one of two huge dips and two even bigger rises. Twice he was face down on the canvas, but both times he staggered back to his feet and carried on. The result of this startling determination is the multimillion-pound business that he now runs.
But go back just 12 years and Jacyn, then a 21-year-old salesman, was in tears by the side of the road on the phone to his mum and dad. At the bottom of his employer’s sales performance league table for months on end and working in a hostile and toxic environment, he was on the verge of jacking it all in. “I’d hit rock bottom. My job was making me ill and I couldn’t get a sale,” he says. It was so hard I wanted to give it up. I remember thinking I needed to get my old telesales job back. I felt like I couldn’t cut it.”
But he didn’t go back. In fact, he battled through and turned things around to such an extent that he was soon headhunted by a major UK network and ended up becoming their star salesman, purchasing himself a Ferrari, paying off his mortgage, and buying his own bar.
Fast-forward from the Ferrari high in 2005 to 2011 and Jacyn was at rock bottom yet again, lying in bed reeling from wave after wave of anxiety. “I thought I was dying,” he says. “My mental health had gone and I couldn’t get out of bed. My doctor told me to stop working immediately. I was in huge debt and had to remortgage my house. I’d gone from having everything to having nothing in weeks. It felt like game over.”
However, from this dreadful state, Jacyn went on to build up the business that he now owns outright. He explains how the recovery was sparked: “I got out of bed, looked in the mirror and thought: right, OK, if I die then who cares because I’ve got a chance of greatness? And when you decide to do whatever it takes, things get easier. Once you embrace the fear and shout at the devil, you can do whatever you need… that’s the beautiful thing. You have to realise that the real battle is internal.
“So I chucked the beta-blockers that I’d been prescribed out the window and thought f*** it, let’s go for it…”
So how did these painful dips and remarkable rises come about?
First, the sales journey: after leaving school, Jacyn had been a star salesman at Aviva before going on to sell magazine advertising space. While selling magazine ads he looked at his rusty Renault Clio and knackered Nokia and thought he needed a new job. He saw an ad for a mobile phone sales role with car included, went for it, got the job and cheekily negotiated his salary up from £21k to £27k. “That’s when it dawned on me that you can negotiate anything,” he says. But the joy was short lived. On his first day, Jacyn was stunned to hear his new boss tell a colleague to “f*** off” in public before telling the entire team to get out. “That was my first experience of a toxic work environment,” he says.
Months later, Jacyn had sold zero mobiles and was starting to dread work: “They chucked me a Yellow Pages and I’d make 200 cold calls a day without selling a thing. My manager told me to get out and not come back until I made a sale.” That’s when he ended up in tears phoning his mum and dad: “After putting the phone down I remember thinking: this is one of those moments. If I go back to my old job then my life will always be like this, so I’ve got to stick at it. I have to succeed.”
Jacyn responded by building up his company’s first CRM (customer relationship management) system. “I started to record as many mobile phone contract renewal dates from potential customers as possible.” Over the next 12 months, armed with his CRM data, he went from 500th in the sales league table to first. After a while, a major mobile network, Three, headhunted Jacyn to head up its new business sales team and he became its number one salesperson for three consecutive years. That’s when he bought his Ferrari and bar.
After three years, he walked away from his job with Three to go travelling and to start his own business, although he wasn’t sure what it would be at the time.
The next chapter – his journey towards Rock Bottom Number Two and up again – begins in Jacyn’s Norwich bar. After leaving Three and going travelling, the bar was losing money – “partly because we were giving drinks away and having too much fun.” He realised he needed an electronic point-of-sale (Epos) system to record sales, stock and accounts. But research revealed that one would cost him a hefty £7,000.
No chance, thought Jacyn, who proceeded to build his own system for £1,200 using secondhand kit and some technical jiggery pokery. He says: “All my mates who were running bars wanted a cheap one like mine too. Paying £7,000 didn’t make any sense for businesses like ours, which made me think how massively underserved this market was.”
So Jacyn set about building an affordable, scalable system to bring to market. He found some POS software online aimed at the US market for £50, downloaded it, tweaked it and ‘bingo.’ He needed hardware too, so Jacyn travelled to China to find a manufacturer and paid them £30,000 up front.
He turned a space above his bar into an office and waited for the shipment from China. Eventually, after a worrying wait, the hardware arrived and Jacyn got his customers to help him get it upstairs. He says: “I opened them up, switched them on… and they didn’t work. We had to order replacement parts and repair them locally. It was a nightmare.”
At about this time Jacyn got his first employee – Dave, a 20 year old customer from his bar who could often be found wearing shorts and a T-shirt enjoying a beer. Dave, who started back then on £200 a week, now oversees Jacyn’s American operation.
With the replacement hardware now working in tandem with the tweaked software, Team Jacyn and Dave were ready to go live, selling from their Norwich bar HQ. Jacyn says: “We took photos, advertised the Epos systems online using Google Adwords and pressed ‘go’. The phone rang straight away. At the time, we were the only people selling Epos systems online with Adwords and ours were far more affordable than the competition. I turned the phone off and said to Dave: ‘Are you ready? There’ll be no sleeping. We’ve got to smash it because when we go live the competition will be on to us. We’ve got to go hell for leather’.”
In the first full month they sold £30,000 worth of systems. After hiring sales staff, that figure soon rose to £120,000. The business was going off like a rocket and the future was blindingly bright. Then Jacyn received a call: “You’re selling our software without our permission,” said an unfamiliar voice. The party appeared to be over.
However, Jacyn met up with the software manufacturer, explained his position, negotiated, bought 500 licenses and carried on selling. The party was back on, and all continued to go swimmingly until the same manufacturer – scenting a winning move – offered Jacyn a job as his sales director. Jacyn, not about to place his destiny into a stranger’s hands, declined the offer. And that’s when things went seriously pear-shaped.
Jacyn explains: “The manufacturer had put something in the software that made it shut down after six months. We were naïve and didn’t ever stop to think that could happen – we were just going for it. We had 400 customers and one by one their software started switching off. Our phones were soon ringing off the hook. My customer services manager went for a walk at lunchtime and didn’t come back. Then three more guys walked out. A few days later, I looked in a drawer and found eight county court judgments from customers. In the end, I had to remortgage my house to finance our refunds, racking up £250k of debt in the process. I sold the Ferrari, I sold the bar, I lost everything.”
That’s when the panic attacks began and Jacyn experienced his second nadir. It was an utterly hopeless situation. But after throwing the beta-blockers out the window, he commenced the rebuilding job, which squeezed every ounce of determination, guile and luck that Jacyn had left in him…
He hired a software developer, convincing him to temporarily accept half the salary he was worth. He visited the University of East Anglia and asked for further developers who’d be happy to be paid in three months’ time. And he continued to take angry calls from irate customers whose systems had stopped working and arrange full refunds. “Every morning I’d get in at 6am, take calls and give money away then leave at 1am,” he recalls. “I was beyond caring about the debt but it was horrible because I respect people in business and I know they put their life and soul into it. My failing systems were damaging their businesses too.”
Jacyn and his head developer chose to create a cloud-based Epos system. They built it amid a massive, intensive burst of heroic activity, and released it just in time for a crucial Google update that allowed a printing function previously unavailable for cloud-based applications. This was a critical slice of good luck. A reinvigorated Jacyn was good to start selling again, and this time he owned the software.
“Around 250-300 customers who had bought my previous system stuck with us, so we launched the new cloud software from a strong foundation,” says Jacyn. “It was exactly what our customers were waiting for. We could finally give them the product they deserved and the service to go along with it and that felt fantastic.”
And Jacyn hasn’t looked back since. His company is now the UK’s market leader and one of the biggest Epos businesses in the world, with more than 30,000 customers and growing fast.
Jacyn’s inspirational journey shows us how there’s often a lot more to entrepreneurs than meets the eye. They’re not just money making machines in expensive clothes with a passion for risk. So next time you get the chance, why not take the time to find out how your client – or potential client – has arrived at their current destination? You might learn something that not only inspires, but also provides crucial information that lets you take your business relationship to the next level.
Jacyn was speaking to John Maffioli – Founder of the BDLN.