The Marines gave me the determination you need to make it as an entrepreneur

Former Royal Marine Commando Sean Taylor has built a business, Zip World, which is flying high. He believes that his elite forces background has given him the tools he needs to carry on accelerating and breaking down barriers while still keeping everything in perspective…

The 99-year-old screeched through the air at 120mph while his family looked on, smiling in wonder as he flew.

Entrepreneur Sean Taylor may as well retire now. How can he better such a joyous scene? Creating the fastest zip line in the world (also the longest in Europe) is impressive enough – but having a 99-year-old bomb down it at 120mph? Now that’s truly awesome work.

Entrepreneurs sell many things but Sean’s product – adrenaline-fuelled excitement – is very much in demand. His company Zip World, which he co-founded with Nick Moriarty and Matthew Shaylor in 2013, will turnover more than £14.4m this year, recording an EBITDA of £5.3m and making The Sunday Times Virgin Fast Track 100.

Visitor numbers keep on growing. The courageous 99-year-old mentioned above is one of 500,000 people who flocked to Zip World’s three sites in North Wales this year – Since October 2016 Zip World have seen a staggering one million visitors pass through their gates. And Sean is ambitious to continue the upward trend. “I’d like to think we’ll be a £100m business by 2022,” he says. And, the way things are going, you wouldn’t bet against him.

The Royal Marines should take some credit. It was while serving as a Marine that he met co-founder Nick and came up with the idea for Zip World. They joined forces, with Nick focusing on site construction and Sean concentrating on relationship building, marketing and deal making.

The Marines taught Sean many lessons that still help him today. He explains: “Being a Marine makes you determined and tenacious. Over the years I’ve often felt like giving up, particularly when trying to get planning permission. But I’ve been trained to keep going and having that stamina and endurance really helps. Like anyone in business, you have bad days but you’ve got to keep it in perspective: I had really bad days as a Marine.”

Sean retired from the Marines in 2005. He and Nick then used £250,000 of their savings together with a Welsh Government loan of £250,000 (“the Welsh Government have been brilliant,” he says) to build their first site at Penrhyn Quarry near Bethesda in Snowdonia National Park in 2013.

Since then, the carefully planned growth of Zip World has been phenomenal. A year after launch, they opened a second site at Llechwedd Slate Caverns featuring the world’s largest subterranean zip-wire and obstacle course which includes a complex system of nets, and Zip World Titan – a four-person zip zone where you sit rather than lie.

A third site opened in 2016 – Zip World ‘Fforest’ in the in Betws y Coed village. And Sean can’t wait for Fforest’s newest addition, which is coming soon: “’Plummet 2’ is nearly ready,” he says. “It’s totally unique. You traverse trees on to a tower, climb to the top and then two people stand on a platform together, shoot through a trap door, plummet 100ft, slow down, land, and then go for a cuppa.” A constant stream of innovations, similar to this, is planned at all Zip World sites over the next few months.

Despite the talk of plummeting, Sean has deliberately pitched his rising star – Zip World – to as broad a market as possible; a big factor in Zip World’s impressive growth. It’s not just aimed at a narrow band of adrenaline addicts but offers an entirely more rounded experience. “Yes it’s all about the product,” says Sean. “But we’re not ‘extreme’. Scaring people witless is bad for business. If you visit during the week outside the school holidays, most of our customers are 60-plus. The peripheral things are really important to us too. We want the car park attendants to provide a good greeting. We want beautifully clean toilets in our cafés. We want locally sourced food. It’s the whole experience. We pay our staff 38% above the living wage and I believe that sets the tone.”

With Sean and Nick’s giant ambition, trusted brand and proven recipe, more growth seems inevitable. “I want to prove that Zip World can work in other places – both in the UK and overseas,” says Sean. “We’re currently looking at sites in five countries.” He talks enviously of the ‘Queenstown (New Zealand) model’, where businesses not only provide outdoor activities but offer accommodation and transport, too – indicating that this may well be a future strategy. He’s also pushing for a new airport in North Wales. “Twenty years ago, Queenstown had one flight a week,” he says. “Now it has 22 flights a day. We want to go down a similar route, but there’s work to do on both transport links and accommodation availability. I’d say we’re about 15 years ahead of the Lake District as an adventure product but they’re still miles ahead when it comes to hotels and restaurants.”

With Sean leading the charge, Zip World will surely continue to grow, and North Wales will continue to reap the benefits. Other sites in exciting new locations are coming too. His background gives him the perfect tools for the adventure ahead, so expect to see more ecstatic 99-year-olds shooting through the air very soon.