BECOMING AN ENTREPRENEUR
For as long as he could remember, Tom Woodard wanted to be an entrepreneur. In 1993, at the age of 29, Tom set up Show Data Systems in Oxfordshire, an event registration software business targeting the UK’s burgeoning trade show circuit.
“From a young age, I knew I wanted to work for myself, but I had no idea how to go about it. After doing a science degree I spent several years travelling before joining my father’s business. His business was selling ID products for the event industry, and I developed a computerised registration system. I was perhaps more ambitious to grow than he wanted, so we agreed that I would run my own business. He gave me my first customer, and the rest is history.”
Tom started his business as a sub-contractor to his Dad, but soon took on new customers; within a year he had taken on his own premises and begun to employ his own staff.
In 2007, Tom saw the opportunity to grow even further by acquiring public show ticket expert Interchange Communications, and in 2010, he acquired a 75% stake in the company. By 2012, when he decided to sell both ventures, Tom was employing 18 people and 70 casual workers to manage more than 230 shows a year.
ENTREPRENEUR VS MANAGER
Like many business owners, Tom found that after a number of years, his role had become that of a manager than an entrepreneur, and he found he was no longer enjoying running the day-to-day aspects of the business. He felt that he could easily be replaced by a competent General Manager. He had also been in the business for 20 years, and he no longer enjoyed the 24/7 mindset. As Tom tells us: “I’d had enough. I was running my own business and had acquired another one en-route (Interchange). I was ready for a change. Events are very tiring, and I didn’t have the same level of energy I had 20-plus years ago.
“Show Data Systems was running 230 events a year, and while they invariably went well, I was always conscious that I needed to be on hand. A lot of customers know me personally and wanted to deal with me, so I took steps to resolve that by hiring account managers.”
It was time to let go and try something new.