Starling for Business stories: Gareth Thomas

23rd October 2018

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At 14, Gareth started a web design agency, at 21 he co-founded a holiday rental business and now at 32 he is a single foster carer to three children and runs Clarified, giving advice on project management and strategy to other companies. His particular focus is on one-person businesses.

Breaking the mould

“When I was 14, I started building websites, something which transformed into a proper business that I called Warehouse Media,” says Gareth, who grew up in Cardiff. “I first started it to make a bit of money. It was easier than I thought it would be and as I created more websites, I built up a real client base through referrals. It was the early days of the internet and I would just put a link at the bottom of the site saying that I had designed it. Once people got in touch to say that they wanted a website, I would be honest and tell them that I was a kid working from home, but I never got any push back because of my age,” he says.

In between building websites for clients, he built his own websites, one of which was The Camping Warehouse, a community for campers, caravan owners and people looking for tips on the best tents to buy or where to go on a six month trip around Scotland. “I researched and wrote most of the content myself and eventually added an online system for people to book pitches on camping sites,” he says.

As the website continued to grow and develop, it gained more traffic and he won several awards, all while working from his parents’ attic. “My parents have always been very supportive - as a family we don’t deal well with stereotypes and they always encouraged me to break the mould,” he says.

Six months into studying an undergraduate degree in Events Management at Cardiff Metropolitan University, he was asked whether he would like to co-found a holiday rental business with Craig Douglas, who had run the company that Gareth used to add the online booking system to The Camping Warehouse. Gareth spoke to his university to ask their advice. His tutor recognised the significance of this opportunity and encouraged him to go for it, and not to wait until he had finished his degree. Reserve, the company he co-founded, became the largest holiday apartment agency in Scotland and continues to handle millions of pounds worth of bookings each year.

“In 2012, Reserve was doing really well, but I started to get itchy feet. Everything I did at that time seemed focused on money; volunteering was the perfect counterbalance to that. I loved watching the Olympics and seeing how the volunteers made the Games and when I heard someone from the UK Scouting Association interviewed on the radio, I signed up to volunteer,” he says.

“From there on, I started to realise that the few hours a week I spent volunteering with children were the best parts of my week - I really loved it.” This sparked his decision to adopt as a single parent. Very late in the process, the adoption fell through. After such a huge disappointment, he didn’t want to risk it happening again and thought that becoming a foster parent might be a better option.

Gareth has now been a single foster carer to three children for over a year. “I did lots of things in business that went against the tide and people were always unsure of those decisions. But once you’ve done one or two wacky things and then pull it off, you prove to yourself and others that you can do it. The kids are amazing,” he says. The eldest brother is 11, the middle brother is 9 and their sister is 5.

Business advice

Having started a business at such a young age, and spent so many years running a company handling millions of annual bookings, Gareth has a wealth of experience which forms the basis of Clarified. His business coach Debbie Harvey has encouraged him to aim higher: “She’s helping me see the value of my experience and expertise and the importance of passing this onto others through Clarified.”

The main piece of advice he gives to his clients is to “know yourself and put your personality into the business. This is easier than ever due to social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram and it’s something that people shouldn’t shy away from,” he says. On the topic of social media, his advice is to “do one and do it really well if you’re going to do social media.”

Gareth has always been passionate about one-person businesses. “It’s such a powerful and dynamic market and I love that they often operate at speed,” he says. “One-person businesses are often so stretched, stretched paper thin and you’re expected to be everything - marketing, accounting, business - it’s not fair. That’s where I can step in and help.”

Having run his own businesses for more than a decade, he has gained a lot of experience across different areas of marketing. “I’m quite good across the board - paid, digital, traditional marketing. I wanted to make sure I could bring that range of expertise to others,” he says.

Gareth Thomas
Gareth Thomas photographed by Lee Garland

Managing your time, managing your money

His biggest challenge? “Time. 100% Time. I need an extra 48 hours a day, an extra 24 wouldn’t be enough,” he says. He tackles this by reminding himself that we all have the same amount of time and by prioritising. “The kids are always my priority and I don’t feel guilty about spending time helping with swimming lessons, doing school lunches or taking them to football practice,” he says. “At the end of each day I think ‘I was there for them and they’ll remember that’ - it’s a good use of my time.”

At work, each morning he tries to think about the three things he would be happy to tick off the to-do list, something that makes his work more manageable and encourages him to focus on specific tasks.

Gareth first heard about Starling at an event in Cardiff where Anne Boden, our founder and CEO, was speaking. He later looked into challenger banks and chose Starling when he found that it was the only one to offer both personal and business accounts from the same app. “It suits me down to the ground,” he says. “I jumped at the chance and couldn’t believe how slick the process was to sign up.”

“The usability of so many banking apps is appalling. I used to be with First Direct for my personal banking which started out really well but every day it feels like a layer of traditional banking creeps in,” he says.

“In comparison to other banking apps, Starling is on another planet,” he says. “I’m recommending it to anyone and everyone that I meet.”

To find out more about Clarified, have a look at Gareth’s website, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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