Each week we catch up with a different entrepreneur to discover what makes them tick, their top tips and more. This week we spend five minutes with Ed Molyneux, CEO and co-founder of FreeAgent.
Hi Ed! What is FreeAgent and what do you do?
Ed: We provide award-winning cloud accounting software that’s specifically designed for micro-businesses, freelancers and their accountants. We help you take care of your business admin day-to-day – from managing your expenses to creating and sending professional-looking estimates and invoices to your clients.
Our mission is to make people feel in control of their day-to-day business accounts, relax about tax and work more effectively with their accountants.
What aspects do you enjoy about your job (and which don’t you enjoy)?
Ed: It’s a fast-paced creative industry and I enjoy being surrounded by people who share my vision, intellect, tenacity and drive. It means every day is an exciting new challenge. My least favourite part is that I spend a lot of my time well outside my comfort zone – I used to be very happy to sit in front of my Mac writing code but nowadays I need to be presenting to investors or standing up in front of large groups of people or cold calling. It’s a huge responsibility but it comes with the territory of being the CEO.
What time does a typical day for you start and end?
Ed: I’m not a big fan of working long days – I think it’s counterproductive and business is much more a marathon than a sprint. So I aim for a normal working day and use the downtime to recharge and think.
What was the inspiration for your business?
Ed: I left the RAF in 2002, where I had served as a Harrier pilot, and moved into IT consultancy work, which I loved. But although it was really satisfying to forge a career as a freelancer and to be my own boss, I really disliked how stressful it was to manage the accounting side of my business.
While freelancing I met a couple of other freelancers (Olly Headey and Roan Lavery, who became FreeAgent’s co-founders) who shared the same frustrations I had. We hated the prospect of wrestling with a complicated spreadsheet in addition to paying a lot of money to an accountant to do our books.
This was the spark we needed to write the first prototype of FreeAgent and the three of us propelled ourselves into six months of rapid development, prototyping the service and shaping the business model in our spare time. That was back in 2007, and we now have 40,000 customers worldwide and employ 75 people from our HQ in Edinburgh.
What do you feel are the biggest obstacles to growth for SMEs in the UK?
Ed: I think it’s really hard for small businesses to fund the funding they need to grow – and that growth is really important for our economy. That’s something we hope to help with – by letting our customers show how well they are performing (because they have a real handle on the numbers using FreeAgent) it should be easier to convince lenders to lend.
Did you make any mistakes on your journey, and if so, how did you bounce back?
Ed: Our progress has always been a bit like a rollercoaster – up and down but always with forward motion. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that as much as you might want to, you just can’t possibly do everything and you have to be able to trust other people to do the work for you.
If you could give one piece of advice to any other entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Ed: Be open-minded about tweaking your initial idea and listening to what the market wants. It’s easy to get blinded into thinking your concept is the next world-changer and just ignore what others are telling you, but their feedback is what will make or break your business.
And be sure to find a real problem and solve it – far too many entrepreneurs are trying to sell vitamins, not painkillers.